There could well be added opportunity for bolters to force their way into the Steelform Wanganui Heartland squad for 2019 coming out of Saturday's Game of Three Halves at Cooks Gardens, with the likelihood of gaps for the August 31 representative match.
On Wednesday, the NZRU announced a 'Pasifika Challenge' event consisting of two international matches at Eden Park on August 31, which is the same day as Wanganui host their new rivals Thames Valley in the rematch of last year's 17-7 upset loss in the Meads Cup semifinals.
A New Zealand Heartland XV, chosen by new head coach Mark Rutene (Horowhenua Kapiti) and the selectors, will take on Manu Samoa in a warmup game for Samoa's trip to the World Cup in Japan.
This raises the likelihood that Wanganui, perennial contenders for the Meads Cup, could be without 3-4 key players who are away on national duty during their provincial match.
If the New Zealand squad to play Samoa is selected with an eye to the 2018 Heartland team, the Wanganui representatives were current players Craig Clare, Peni Nabainivalu and Campbell Hart, along with the now-retired Cameron Crowley.
As surprise Meads Cup winners, Thames Valley were also well represented by Heartland captain Alex Bradley, eventual Player of the Year Brett Ranga, Glen McIntyre, and then Sam McCahon, joining the squad to replace the injured Shaun Hill.
Hill and Bradley are currently not in the Swampfoxes set-up, but Ranga, McIntyre and McCahon have all been named in the wider Thames Valley squad preparing for their mandatory Ranfurly Shield challenge to holders Otago in Wanaka on July 13.
A handful of locals getting the national callup could mean the possibility of Wanganui coach Jason Caskey selecting notably different lineups from the Wanganui team which starts the Heartland campaign against Wairarapa-Bush in Masterton on August 24, to the squad which plays Thames Valley the following week at Cooks Gardens.
The Eden Park fixture promises to be a big occasion, as combined with the other game of Tonga (Ikale Tahi) taking on the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians in another game with World Cup squads, organisers are hoping for an Eden Park sellout.
This could mean the Heartland team will play in front of an audience comparable to the Samoa vs Fiji test at the 2011 World Cup, where over 60,000 fans were at Eden Park.
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"We look forward to challenging ourselves against a Top 20 side and one that is extremely physical and plays the game at a fast pace," said Rutene.
"We will have the best players from across the Heartland unions coming together and is another great opportunity to reward players for strong seasons in their provincial colours."
In any case, Saturday's local trial match format is a notably departure from the 80 minute Town vs Country clashes of the past few seasons, and is the first time that sub-union teams within the WRFU have played in each in many years.
It is in 2013-14 that a local sub-union team in the form of Rangitikei last played matches, unsuccessfully challenging Central Hawke's Bay for the Bebbington Shield, while Northern were scheduled for a Shield challenge in 2017, but pulled the pin due to injuries and unavailablity in the squad.
The three halves game will follow the same format as last year when Wanganui played Bay of Plenty and then the Manawatu Evergreens in Taihape.
Metro and Rangitikei-Country will kick off the game at 2pm and play a 40 minute half, then Rangitikei-Country will carry on for another half against Northern, kickoff 2.50pm.
Metro will then come back to play the final half against Northern, with a 3.40pm kickoff.
All three squads were scheduled to have a training session together this evening, at Kaierau Country Club, Memorial Park in Taihape, and Spriggens Park respectively.
In total, 34 players who have represented Wanganui have been named among the 74 players chosen, including 24 members out of 32 from the 2018 Heartland Squad.
Those not sighted are Crowley (retired), Harry Symes (injured), Simon Dibben (semi-retired), Kameli Kuruyabaki (Manawatu), Kaveni Dabenaise (Northland), Peter Hay-Horton (unavailable) and the loan players Henri Williams (Waikato) and Michael Tafili (Counties-Manukau).
The club team with the most represented players is Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist, who have 12 players in the Metro team and a further three in the Rangitikei-Country lineup.
There is similar cross-pollination with other squads, with Byford's Readimix Taihape players in both the Rangitikei-Country and Northern teams, while Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri and Waverley Harvesting Border give a player each to Metro with the rest in the Rangitikei-Country squad.
The teams are
Backs – Kaierau: Cameron Davies, Shandon Scott, Ethan Robinson, Karl Pascoe, Clive Stowers; Marist: Rory Gudsell, Haze Reweti, Penijamini Nabainivalu, Josaia Bogileka, Luke Foster, Ioane Aki. Forwards – Border: Angus Middleton; Kaierau: Raymond Salu, Joe Edwards, Josh Lane, Matt Ashworth, Josefa Rokotakala. Marist: Gordon Karaitiana, Faamanu Pulemagafa, Viki Tofa, Jack Yarrall, Sam Madams, Bradley Graham; Marton: Tipene Harrison; Ngamatapouri: Bryn Hudson; Pirates: George Forster. Coaches: Carl Gibson, Ace Malo.
Backs – Border: Lindsay Horrocks, Craig Clare, Te Kepa Grindlay, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Tom Symes, Nick Harding; Ngamatapouri: Timoci (Jim) Seruwalu, Michael Nabuliwaqa, Sheldon Parkinga-Manhire; Marton: Ngatu Bates; Taihape: Tyler Rogers-Holden.
Forwards – Border: Kampeli Latu, Kieran Hussey, Jack Hodges, Chris Breuer, Jason Myers, Ranato Tokoisolomone; Hunterville: George Gardiner; Marist: Kayden Shedlock, Bradley O'Leary, Hamish Broadhead; Ngamatapouri: Samu Kubunavanua; Ratana: Corrie Pikimaui, Dale Akuhata; Taihape: Wiremu Cottrell. Coaches: Cole Baldwin, Steelie Koro.
Backs – Ruapehu: Kahl Elers-Green, Joshua Fifita, Troy Brown, Royce Trow, Cody Scarrow, Mitchell Millar; Taihape: Rawiri Broughton, Dane Whale, Jaye Flaws, Sosefo Bourke. Forwards – Ruapehu: Gabriel Hakaraia, Te Uhi Hakaraia, Roman Tutauha, Hamish McKay, Campbell Hart, Jackson Campbell, Jamie Hughes; Taihape: Tremaine Gilbert, Hadlee Hay-Horton, Dylan Gallien, Matthew Brown, Timi Teepa, Regan Collier. Coaches: David Gower, Matt Gilbert.