Coach Derren Witcombe believes the squad he and assistant George Konia have assembled is a talented bunch, led ably by new captain Cam Eyre. In keeping with their mantra of picking local, Witcombe and Konia have rallied up 27 Northlanders plying their trade in the region.
While missing regular Taniwha players like Derek Carpenter, Justin Davies, and Bronson Murray, Witcombe says this season’s squad is an exciting bunch.
“They’re all young guys wanting to make a name for themselves,” Witcombe said with a bit of excitement, adding that a values and protocols session on Thursday was led by the players.
“We’ve got pressure in positions and if we had to select a team tomorrow we’d have some struggles. We’re pretty excited we’ve got a young team, I’m excited for the whole lot.”
The Waipu pairing of Brooke Gilmore and Dan McCully have picked up contracts along with Hora Hora forwards Miracle Tulua and Paul Tuiaimalo. Also picking up a contract is Mid Northern hooker Jordan Olsen, who has taken Robbie Abel’s spot after he asked to be released.
Olsen, along with Gilmore and McCully, is the epitome of what you’d call a true-blue Northlander after having played age grades in Northland right the way through to the ITM Cup squad.
Witcombe said Tulua and Tuiaimalo have earned their contract from a standout season with Hora Hora, as well as strong showing for the Northland Barbarians side against the Blues.
New names to some Northlanders will be in the propping department with Namatahi Waa, Howard Sililoto, and Matt Talaese along with Michael Stolberg at lock. However, Waa and Sililoto have ties to the region.
Three years ago Waa was playing rugby for Pipiwai in division two, before moving to Auckland and turning down a contract with Auckland in favour of playing for the Taniwha.
“Credit to him, he was in the Auckland academy and we’d spoken to him earlier in the year but he chose to come home rather than signing for Auckland – which is what we want going forward,” Witcombe said of Waa. “He’s got family up here too so he’ll be playing for them.”
Meanwhile Sililoto has been in Northland for two years, playing for Old Boys Marist, and is returning from a shoulder operation this year.
Praised for his scrimmaging by All Black scrum coach Mike Cron, Sililoto was part of last year’s ITM Cup wider squad but was injured in a pre-season game.
Talaese comes to Northland fresh off the back of being part of last season’s Ranfurly Shield winning Counties Manukau team.
Witcombe said Northland came to have his services after Counties weren’t willing to put a contract in front of him after a hand operation. A need for a scrummaging tighthead in the Taniwha meant Northland pursued him.
Talaese has been in the region for the past month or so impressing coaches with his early dedication to the Taniwha.
Stolberg is a piece of tall timber, at 2.03m and 108kg, brought in by Witcombe and Konia to give some depth to their locking stocks.
“He is someone we don’t have in the region, [a tall, heavy, lock]. We felt our lineout needing some strengthening and his name came up,” Witcombe said.
“He has been in the Brumbies academy, but he still has a lot of work to do – and he knows that. His key point of skill is lineout ability. We need someone who can run a lineout, especially with Shane Neville injured and out for a month.”
Ross Wright (Wellsford)
WillGriff John (Mid Western)
Namatahi Waa (Hikurangi)
Howard Sililoto (OBM)
Matt Moulds (Otamatea)
Jordan Olsen (Mid Northern)
Tom Murday (Mid Western)
Michael Stolberg (Hikurangi)
Shane Neville (Otamatea)
Miracle Tulua (Horahora)
Cam Eyre (Captain) (OBM)
Dan Pryor (OBM)
Kara Pryor (OBM)
Jack Ram (Kerikeri)
Paul Tuaimalo (Horahora)
Sontane Takulua (Mid Northern)
Kurt Davies (Otamatea)
Dan Hawkins (Otamatea)
Latiume Fosita (Horahora)
Viliami Tahitua (Horahora)
Winston Stanley (Mangonui)
Warren Dunn (Horahora)
Brook Gilmore (Waipu)
Jone Macalai (Awanui)
Filipo Nakosi (Awanui)
Matt Wright (Wellsford)
Whiria Meltzer (Awanui)
Dan McCully (Waipu)
Tevita Tuipalotu (Western Sharks)
UNAVALIABLE DUE TO INJURY
Bryce Williams (Kamo)
Ben Berridge (Mid Western)
Owen Pihema (Moerewa)