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Tasman team to play Canterbury at Hanmer Springs

Whether the All Blacks raid the roster or not, depth, experience and the return of several fan favourites may hold the key to the Tasman Mako breaking its premiership hoodoo. 

Potential bolters for this year's Tasman Mako squad have two more chances to impress the coaching team before the final squad is announced for the 2019 Mitre Cup season.

The team meets traditional nemesis Canterbury at Hanmer Springs on Saturday, before they host Otago in the last pre-season hit-out at Trafalgar Park next Friday.

All Black Shannon Frizell adds power to a potent Mako pack.
All Black Shannon Frizell adds power to a potent Mako pack.

With four spots still to be filled, the Tasman roster is already looking formidable with a mix of experience, depth and promise apparent ahead of the new campaign, which begins in Blenheim on August 10 against Wellington.

Tim O'Malley, Joe Wheeler and Tima Fainga'anuku are back from overseas stints in the USA, Japan and France respectively, while loose forward Jordan Taufua has signed for one more season as he looks to secure a black jersey before heading to the UK.

Tasman's Jamie Spowart is one of the young players hoping to transfer solid club form for Marist into Mitre 10 Cup magic as the Mako seeks a maiden premiership win.
Tasman's Jamie Spowart is one of the young players hoping to transfer solid club form for Marist into Mitre 10 Cup magic as the Mako seeks a maiden premiership win.

"[Taufua's] a great man to have around the environment again and obviously pushing for higher honours still to go to the World Cup, but we'll have him for the first couple of rounds while he tries to achieve that goal," Mako head coach Andrew Goodman said.

Shannon Frizell's test start against the Springboks this weekend had increased the dynamic blindside's chances of making the cut for Japan.

All Black flanker Liam Squire, who opted out of this year's Rugby Championship, is poised to play in the Mitre 10 Cup for the first time since 2015.

Goodman said he was looking forward to having the 23-test All Black back on board for Tasman on Monday.

"It's been a few years since he pulled the jersey on for us so everyone's excited about having him back- he's been a big part of the Mako history, through some hard times, some good times and when they won the championship as well." 

The depth of the Mako wider squad and high standard of club competition meant there would be some fierce competition in several positions before the final squad was announced on August 3.

Goodman said the final preseason games were a prime shot for fringe players to be rewarded for their hard work on and off the paddock.

"There's some really excited lads that have deserved that opportunity."

Goodman highlighted the work of openside flankers Jake Norris, Anty Burnett and Braden Stewart that had put them in the frame for Mitre 10 Cup honours. Number 8 Isaiah Miller had shown promise in coming back from the ACL injury that scuppered his Mako ambitions last season.

Former Wales U20 and Scarlets player Declan Smith had played "consistently well" at halfback for Stoke and could be given an opportunity against either Canterbury or Otago.

Putting pressure on incumbent hooker Andrew Makalio in the absence of World Cup-bound Samoan Ray Niuia was former Waratahs and Rebels player Hugh Roach, while Sam Moli had impressed the coaching team this club season.

"[Sam's] had a good off-season and come back in pretty good condition and he's proved his worth this year."

Goodman said the the return of Tasman's large Super Rugby contingent would help the local players get up to speed on how to prepare for the weekly demands of top-level provincial games.

"With the Mitre 10 Cup, you've got to be on every week - it's a pretty even competition and anyone can knock over anyone on any given day so we've just got to prepare well,"

 "It's a bit of a sprint so we've got to use these preseason games to get some good organisation done and then make sure you hit the ground running - we've just got to make sure we keep having fun and keep the boys motivated and look forward to playing some good Mako footy."

On a personal level, Goodman said his time as a Crusaders assistant coach during the franchise's winning run of Super titles had been "an amazing experience" from which he had benefited greatly.

"It's kind of awesome going into work every day - I'm still learning every day not only off the staff but the players who are dealing with those high-pressure situations, so I've been able to pick up some ideas from them to see how a world-class organisation runs."

So, can Mako fans expect a Razor-like exhibition of break-dancing in the event of a long-overdue premiership win?

"No - I think I'll leave that out - maybe behind closed doors."

The Tasman Mako squad to play Canterbury on Saturday 27 July - Hanmer Springs - 1.30pm

  1. Ryan Coxon,
  2. Hugh Roach,
  3. Isaac Salmon,
  4. Quin Strange
  5. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta,
  6. Sione Havili,
  7. Braden Stewart
  8. Taina Fox-Matamua
  9. Ben Finau
  10. Tim O'Malley
  11. Tima Faingaanuku
  12. Nick Foxley
  13. Tuli Paea,
  14. Jamie Spowart
  15. Michael Stringer
  16. Sam Moli
  17. Sam Lane
  18. Kershawl Sykes – Martin
  19. Isaiah Miller
  20. Jacob Norris
  21. Finlay Christie
  22. Sam Briggs
  23. Leicester Faingaanuku
  24. Anty Burnett
  25. Levi Aumua
  26. Timoci Tavatavanawai