Tasman’s fans have spoken and come up with a provincial rugby side, potentially as formidable as any in the history of the NPC.
During the lockdown period Mako supporters were given a challenge designed to keep them occupied and amused.
The Tasman Rugby Union set up a Facebook poll in which users were encouraged to vote for their favourite Mako player in each position from the last 14 seasons, culminating in a “Fans XV”.
Tasman union officials nominated a group of players in each of the 15 positions. They were voted on with the top picks forming the Fans XV and the second-highest choices in key positions ending up as part of a powerful bench.
Tough choices had to be made across all positions, with impact, relative skill sets and longevity of service to be weighed up.
Loosehead prop was one of the most hotly-contested areas, with four international players in contention. Although Tim Perry (70 games) got the nod he was up against former All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Kane Hames, plus Tongan rep Siua Halanukonuka and long-serving Sam Prattley.
Marlborough favourite Quentin MacDonald was chosen at hooker, edging out Francis Smith, Ti’i Paulo, Andrew Makalio and Dan Perrin.
Tighthead prop was also a tough call, incumbent Tyrel Lomax proving a more popular choice than fellow All Black Ben Franks, the much-travelled Ross Geldenhuys, Ben May and Sakaria Taulofa.
Alex Ainley, one of the union’s most durable and whole-hearted performers over 92 appearances, got the nod at left lock ahead of Chris Bentley, All Black Chris Jack, Felipo Levi and rising star Quentin Strange.
Crowd favourite Joe Wheeler bagged the other locking position, ahead of Tevita Cavubati, Riki Hoeta, George Naoupu and up-and-comer Pari Pari Parkinson.
The blindside flanker role was another with an abundance of talent. All Black Liam Squire finished with the most votes, edging out Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Jack Lam and Pete Samu – the latter three internationals.
Former skipper Shane Christie was a clear champion in the openside flanker spot, up against Sione Havili, Tevita Koloamatangi, Jonathan Poff and Gary Redmond.
Hard-hitting Jordan Taufua gained the fans’ approval as the preferred No 8, ahead of Mark Bright, Cory Holdaway, Vernon Fredericks and Tasi Luafutu.
Halfback was another closely-contested position, Samoan international Kahn Fotuali’I being preferred ahead of All Black Jimmy Cowan, 52-game Billy Guyton, incumbent Finlay Christie and Steve Alfeld.
Marty Banks, one of the union’s most popular performers, was locked in at first five, seeing off accomplished rivals in Mitch Hunt, James Marshall, Tim O’Malley and Tim Taylor.
Left wing saw another popular choice, the ebullient James Lowe getting the call ahead of incumbent Leicester Fainga’anuku, James Kamana, Lucky Mulipola and Mitchell Scott.
David Havili, so good in a variety of positions, edged out his current coach Andrew Goodman for the 12 jersey, plus Tom Marshall, Alex Nankivell and Joel Iggo.
The long-serving Kieran Fonotia will partner him in the centres, seeing off Trael Joass, Levi Aumua, Kade Poki and NZ Sevens rep Bryce Heem.
Right winger is Tima Fainga’anuku, who earned the popular vote ahead of Blair Cook, Peter Playford, Wallaby Peter Betham and NZ sevens star Afeleki Pelenisi.
Fullback was a two-horse race, between incumbent Will Jordan and the most-capped Mako, Robbie Malneek. In the end the 104-match veteran Malneek got the vote, his durability and length of service undoubtedly a factor.
The bench, with three former All Blacks on board, comprises: Andrew Makalio, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Quentin Strange, Ethan Blackadder, Jimmy Cowan, Mitch Hunt and Will Jordan.
It’s an impressive team and, after having covered the Mako since their inception, it’s hard to disagree with its make-up. Personally, I would have included Jordan on the right wing but, with players nominated in the position they had played in most, he was in the fullback bracket.
The biggest shame is this side never got the chance to play together - they would have been mighty hard to better.