A fresh looking Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri will be vowed and determined to avoid the horror show of 12 months earlier when once again the defending Tasman Tanning
Premier champions McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu make the long trek down from Ohakune on Saturday.

Having been formed in 2015 and quickly sweeping to the Senior championship, while finishing mid-pack in their debut Premier campaign, Ngamatapouri's sophomore season in the top grade last year was an unmitigated disaster.

The loss of several star players, while head coach Richard Carston had his own health issues, exposed a lack of depth in the Waitotara Valley, as Ngamataporui would often have only one reserve at best, and the makeshift squad got pretty banged up by the Top 6 teams, who all needed maximum points against them to keep playoff hopes alive.

They defaulted a couple of matches during a season which was already looking very long by the first week of April, when Ruapehu destroyed them 95-5 in the valley – scoring 16 tries to one.


But no-one involved on Saturday in either team is expecting a repeat, despite Ruapehu coming off a runnaway 91-3 destruction of Harvey Round Motors Ratana at Rochfort Park last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Ngamatapouri beat Black Bull Liquor Pirates, the 2018 grand finalists, 52-22 in their home game, and while it remains to be seen how strong Pirates will be, post the head coach Phillip Morris era, the margin alone is enough to give Ruapehu pause.

"We wouldn't be expecting one of those [2018] scores going up there this time," said Ruapehu manager Mark Green.

"They've been recruiting, I suppose."

Starting the year without a Senior team in behind them, Ruapehu have gone with a 30-man group for this opening part of the campaign, as the mountain men under coach Daisy Alabaster will continue the "one game at a time" mantra which has served them so well.

With the departure of Steelform Wanganui incumbent Craig Clare to Waverley Harvesting Border, it is the young playmaking trio of Mitchell Millar, Josh Fifita and Kahl Elers-Green, who have all been brought along carefully, and will now set the attacking direction in Clare's absence.

Ultimately, the leadership group remains in the engine room with two Wanganui captains in Roman Tutauha and Campbell Hart, along with 2018's club player of the year in flanker Jamie Hughes.

"We've got a senior group within the squad to help the young guys out," said Green.

"We're trying to pick a big squad and rotate a few players. Obviously, it doesn't work like that all the time, with injuries and stuff."

Although he is no longer an active player, club legend Peter Rowe will travel to watch the game and at a pinch this year will always have the boots handy, while his rugby brain is available for any youngster who wants to pick it.

"He's there for the young fellas," said Green.

Midfielder Troy Brown scored four tries last time up the valley, and is coming off a hat trick against Ratana.

A big pickup for the club is the return of former Wanganui player Tautahi Rawiri, who was successfully playing league for the Whanganui Boxon and Manawatu Mustangs rep team, until the Boxon went on hiatus this season.

Rawiri and Brown could make a very effective midfield combination, but Ngamatapouri will be aiming to shut them down, thanks to being nearly back to full strength with a four-player bench last weekend despite the now-returned Wanganui winger Samu Kubunavanua having been away in Fiji.

Jim Seruwalu, who won the 2018 Lochore Cup while on loan to Horowhenua-Kapiti, and Wanganui regular loose forward Bryn Hudson are at full strength, as is fullback Sheldon Pakinga-Mahine, while another member of the Kuruyabaki rugby clan is on the wing.

The loss of stalwart hooker Eoin Wallace with a major hamstring injury is a blow, while the noteworthy newcomer from Fiji is Seva Seraraia, who scored a hat trick against Pirates.

"He's not a big guy, but [he's] everywhere. He's played a lot of league, so he's learning the game," said manager Gerald Pearce.

"It's pretty hard to know how good Pirates were. This weekend will tell.

"If they play like they did last week, they'll take some beating."

The other key component is new coach Sean Edmonds, who comes over from the Counties club to replace Carston.

"He seems to have the confidence of everyone and they seem to be having respect. He's pretty decisive," said Pearce.

"We're pretty confident with our scrum. Not many people got the better of it last year, and it's better this year."

It was the lack of a bench that killed Ngamatapouri for much of 2018 – being competitive for 60 minutes and then running out of gas in the final quarter.

In the other matches in Week 2, Border are likely to have gaps of their own in the roster, which they cannot afford when Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist comes to Waverley to challenge for the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield.

Pirates come back to Spriggens Park for the always-intense derby with Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, with both their matches last year being draws.

Byfords Readimix Taihape have their first home game at Memorial Park against Ratana, who are travelling for the second week in a row.

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There is some good news on the Ruapehu Senior team front, in that the Ohakune club may be able to field a second tier side this year afterall.

After withdrawing before Senior kickoff on March 31, due to a lack of players and more importantly a coaching group, a scout around has confirmed the commitment of some young players, who can be joined by others eventually coming back down from the extended Premier team.

Ruapehu Premier manager Mark Green said 18 of them mustered this week.

"They started training on Tuesday, the B's. What we didn't have was a management group."

Now with coaches secured, the team is likely to join the new-look Division 3 grade when the competitions split into three separate championships on June 8.