Mako out to win Mitre 10 Cup, not defend it
by Peter Jones [Marlborough Weekly / Marlborough App]
One of the hardest tasks in sport is backing up a “perfect” season.
But that’s the mission facing the 2020 Tasman Mako Mitre 10 Cup team.
Since sweeping all before them in 2019, when they went undefeated to win the fledgling union’s first premiership title, the Mako have had to regroup for the new season, their coaches quickly putting aside any talk of “defending” the title, suggesting it is all about going out there and starting from scratch.
Andrew Goodman, co-head coach alongside Clarke Dermody, said “we are not there to defend [the premiership title] we have to go out and win it again. It’s a day-by-day, week-by-week process, as usual, and you can’t look too far ahead.
“It’s about coming into work every day and just enjoying it. Getting better as a team and as an individual … then, hopefully we will see some great results again.”
The 2020 Tasman Mako squad, named on Saturday, has a familiar look to it, despite missing some key performers from the previous history-making provincial season.
It will again be captained by David Havili, with Goodman and Dermody returning as co-head coaches, assisted by Shane Christie and Gray Cornelius.
A feature of the class of 2020 is the return of three former long-serving Tasman Mako players – lock Alex Ainley (92 Mako caps) cames back to the top of the south after a stint with Bay of Plenty, midfielder Kieron Fonotia (65 caps) returns from playing for Welsh club Scarlets, while hooker Quentin MacDonald (78 caps) is back from Oyonnax in France. They will be joined by former Wanderers club player and Samoan halfback Dwayne Polataivao.
The team fields 20 Super Rugby players, plus seven new recruits to the Mako ranks.
High profile wing signings Sevu Reece (Crusaders) and Mark Telea (Blues) are joined by prop Isi Tu'ungafasi (Crusaders), brother of All Black Ofa, former Nelson College First XV loose forward star Anton Segner, athletic young Canterbury lock Mahonri Ngakuru and former Hawke’s Bay flanker Hugh Renton.
Twenty five of the squad have played club rugby in the region with 10 of those graduating from the region’s schools system.
Unfortunate to miss selection are six contracted players who have suffered season-ending injuries - Ethan Blackadder (Crusaders), Atu Moli (Chiefs), Pari Pari Parkinson (Highlanders), Ray Nuia (Blues), James Marshall (Hurricanes) and Jack Grooby (Stoke).
Players absent from the 2019 title-winning combination, for a variety of reasons, are hooker Hugh Roach, former All Black props Wyatt Crockett and Tim Perry, Blair Prinsep, loosies Liam Squire and Jordan Taufua, plus midfielder Levi Aumua.
Four club players will train with the squad as potential injury replacements - flanker Braden Stewart (Central), lock Max Hicks (Marist) prop Kershawl Sykes-Martin (Nelson) and half back Louie Chapman (Kahurangi).
Goodman is thrilled by the potential of the 2020 squad.
“I am really excited about it … obviously we are disappointed for a couple of our Mako men that have been forced out with injuries, such as Ethan [Blackadder], Pari Pari [Parkinson] and Atu [Moli] but that just gives someone else an opportunity.”
Although 32 players have been officially named in the squad, Goodman expects that, given All Blacks commitments and injuries, more will come into the fold over the course of a demanding season, which runs until late November.
“We are excited to see what guys who have been playing club rugby over recent years and have had only a handful of games for us can produce, given more game time.”
The absence of seasoned high-profile performers such as Crockett, Perry, Taufua and Squire will be felt, especially in terms of leadership, but the recall of vastly-experienced players such as MacDonald, Fonotia and Ainley will help balance that equation.
“That’s part of the reason for having those returning Mako men in the squad … they know how we operate. Q, Fonz and Alex are all up there in terms of games played for Tasman, so it’s great to have those boys around and helping out our younger lads.
“But we also have most of the leadership group from last year back – Dave [Havili], Quin [Strange], Mitch [Hunt], Fin [Christie] and Drew [Makalio] are still around and will do a great job for us.”
As usual, there will be limited opportunity for full-squad, pre-season preparation before the action starts in the Mitre 10 Cup this weekend, but Goodman is relaxed about the situation.
“It’s always this way with the Mitre 10 Cup, you never really get your full squad together before it begins, but the boys have played our style of footy for long enough now so I don’t see a problem.
“The guys that played in the North v South match will have had a good hit-out on Saturday and they’ll come back ready to go in round one, alongside some of these boys [from the pre-season game in Hanmer] that played well and put their hands up.”
A potential fly in the Mako ointment is the selection of five of the squad in the initial All Blacks squad announced on Sunday.
Prop Tyrel Lomax, Quinten Strange and Shannon Frizell were named among the forwards, with Reece and Will Jordan selected as outside backs.
With no games yet on the calendar for the national side, and no idea at this stage how international fixtures will impact the provincial season, the extent of their availability for Tasman remains to be seen.
“We are still waiting to see what kind of season the All Blacks have got,” said Goodman, “it’s a bit up in the air really.
“There will be guys coming in throughout the season depending on All Blacks selection and I’m sure there are a few guys not on the list that will potentially get chances through the first few weeks.”
The 2020 Tasman Mako Mitre 10 Cup squad
Hookers: Quentin MacDonald, Andrew Makalio, Sam Moli.
Props: Ryan Coxon, Tyrel Lomax, Sam Matenga, Isaac Salmon, Isi Tu’ungafasi
Locks: Alex Ainley, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Mahonri Ngakuru, Quinten Strange
Back row: Taina Fox-Matamua, Shannon Frizell, Sione Havili, Jacob Norris, Hugh Renton, Anton Segner
Halfback: Finlay Christie, Dwayne Polataivao
First five: Mitchell Hunt, Tim O’Malley
Midfielders: Kieron Fonotia, Alex Nankivell, Fetuli Paea, Leicester Fainga’anuku
Outside backs: Tima Fainga’anuku, David Havili (captain), Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jamie Spowart, Mark Telea.
Saturday, September 12, 7.05pm Mako v Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.
Friday, September 18, 7.05pm Mako v Northland in Blenheim
Saturday, September 26, 2.05pm Mako v Waikato in Nelson
Sunday, October 4, 2.05pm, Mako v North Harbour in North Harbour
Sunday, October 11, 2.05pm, Mako v Bay of Plenty in Nelson
Saturday, October 17, 4.35pm Mako v Auckland in Auckland
Sunday, October 25, 2.05pm Mako v Southland in Nelson
Saturday, October 31, 2.05pm Mako v Wellington in Wellington
Saturday, November 7, 7.05pm Mako v Canterbury in Blenheim
Saturday, November 14, 4.35pm Mako v Otago in Dunedin
Semifinals November 20-21
Finals November 27-28