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Ride the lightning: Steelform Whanganui heads for the Coast

If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.

  • Frank Lane

By Jared Smith

Steelform Whanganui are preparing for a heavy dose of wild South Island weather and a rugged West Coast team charging right in behind it, as their Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship season kicks off on Saturday.

The squad travels to Greymouth via Hokitika on Friday morning, subject to any changes in plan due to the regional state of emergency being declared in response to heavy rain and possible flooding threatening the Coast, which Niwa was predicting could get a month’s worth of rain in a week.

Should all go ahead as scheduled, Whanganui will have a light session at Greymouth’s John Sturgeon Park that afternoon, followed by heading to the ground on Saturday morning for a final run-through ahead of 2.35pm kickoff.

Coach Jason Hamlin is expecting very heavy conditions.

“We were practicing towards a tidy game, not being expansive. Sometimes you have to curb some of the instincts of the players.

“Giving quality possession to our game drivers – No9 and No10, to get us where we want to go.

“We’ve got an idea of what we want to do things.”

Whanganui got a lot of practice in forward carry-and-control against the Wellington Centurions last weekend, due to the visitor’s line speed being so quick it was hard for the backline to create openings.

However, from that side, prop Ranato Tikoisolomone, fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden and winger Alekesio Vakarorogo are unavailable for this trip – the latter having spent two days in hospital and under doctor’s orders of no physical activity.

In better news, crucial openside flanker Jamie Hughes has been given the all-clear after coming off with a suspected concussion in scoring Whanganui’s opening try against the Centurions.

“Jamie’s come through, Samu [Kubunavanua]’s back, Regan [Colliers]’s through his isolation period,” said Hamlin.

Kubunavanua missed preseason due to family commitments in Fiji – Hamlin taking an extra forward south as NPC squads now travel with 23 players to then pick a match-day 22.

The added body could prove crucial – in 2018, Whanganui skipper Campbell Hart was ruled out of the Greymouth game with a knee infection after the plane flight, leaving his team to go with only 21 as it was too late to fly in a replacement.

Dane Whale took over the captaincy for that match, and will lead the team into this campaign.

Hamlin also wanted an extra forward due to No8 Semi Vodosese and prop Gabriel Hakaraia being left quite sore with muscle tightness after the pounding they took from the Centurions.

“We’re nursing them through, giving the other guys opportunities at training time.”

The coach is expecting similar physicality from a West Coast team that created history in their preseason.

For the first time since 1980, the Coasters defeated both Nelson Bays (28-26) and Marlborough (16-7) in the same year to lift the prestigious Seddon Shield, which has been contested for decades since both those sub-union teams were individual NPC unions, before the amalgamation into Tasman.

The only active New Zealand union not to win an NPC title, having lost three Lochore Cup finals, West Coast are captained by second-five Elliot Smith and have plenty of players with big-match Heartland experience like hooker Troy Tauwhare, fellow 2019 Lochore final veterans Daniel Foord and Sean McClure, and former South Canterbury centre Shayne Anderson.

GREYMOUTH, NEW ZEALAND – SEPTEMBER 01: Captain Troy Tauwhare of West Coast talks to his teammates during the round two Heartland Championship match between West Coast and Wanganui on September 1, 2018 in Greymouth, New Zealand.
(Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

“They’re obviously utilised the option and utilised players of origin,” said Hamlin.

“They’ve always had a really solid forward pack – pretty uncompromising.”

It won’t be an easy day for the kickers, but Hamlin is putting faith in fullback Ezra Malo, who like Whale and reserve Ethan Robinson, has received tips from the tee from Peter O’Shaughnessy.

“We know how valuable those extras are – convert the fives into sevens – it’s such a bonus.”

Again, subject to weather, the team will have a short aftermatch with the hosts before heading back to Hokitika to fly home on Saturday evening.

The Steelform Whanganui team is

  1. Tai Pulemagafa; 2. Roman Tutauha; 3. Gabriel Hakaraia; 4. Matt Ashworth; 5. Peter-Travis Hay-Horton; 6. Ben Whale; 7. Jamie Hughes; 8. Semi Vodosese; 9; Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale (c); 11. Peceli Malanicagi; 12. Timoci Seruwalu; 13. Kameli Kuruyabki; 14. Josaia Bogileka/Tiari Mumby; 15. Ezra Malo.

Reserves – 16. Keightley Watson; 17. Slade Hay-Horton; 18. Jack Yarrall; 19. Samu Kubunavanua; 20. Regan Collier; 21. Kahl Elers-Green; 22. Ethan Robinson; 23. Josaia Bogileka/Tiari Mumby.

The West Coast team is

  1. Jesse MacRae; 2. Troy Tauwhare; 3. Daniel Foord; 4. Cameron Rutherford; 5. Arnie Gibbens; 6. Trent Lawn; 7. Josh Tomlinson; 8. Nathan Evans; 9. Jaime Garland; 10. Ben Wyness; 11. Joseph Scott; 12. Elliot Smith (c); 13. Shayne Anderson; 14. Logan Ross; 15. Sean McClure.

Reserves – 16. Dan Davis; 17. Thomas Dwyer; 18. Tayne Foster; 19. Jasyn Van Vlet; 20. Jordan Searle; 21. Jacob Lowe; 22. Ione Moorea; 23. Greg Compton.

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