The NPD Tasman Trophy kicks off this weekend and promises another thrilling season of club footy. Early competition favourites Waimea Old Boys will look to defend their title after they upset Nelson In a dramatic final 31-28 after extra time last year.
The opening round will feature a repeat of last year’s Nelson competition final between Nelson and Wanderers.
Tasman Rugby Union referee and community rugby promotions manager Mike Lash says the structure of the season has changed, with a shorter draw that will culminate with the Tasman Trophy final. "We have gone for the first round of the sub unions, so nelson teams playing Nelson teams and Marlborough playing Marlborough teams.”
The second round will introduce the cross over matches and the Tasman Trophy will be contested at the end of the season.
"In the past, the Tasman Trophy was up for grabs half way through whereas this time we have the main prize at the business end of the season.”
The blue card initiative introduced in 2017 will again be implemented this season.
"That’s around ensuring players who receive a head knock follow the protocol laid down by NZ Rugby.”
He says a focus will be put on players not returning before they should.
Other than the annual tweak to the ruck and scrum laws, NZ Rugby have increased the punishment for players found not wearing mouthguards.
Players seen without one will concede a penalty and a yellow card.
Any player found without a mouthguard after a yellow has been issued will receive a red card and a one-week suspension.
Mike says with a mass exodus of players from 2017, this season will see a number of new stars shine.
"Obviously, we have lost a big nucleus of players to higher honours and some guys have hung up their boots, but it creates opportunities for a new crop to come through.”
Mike backs Waimea to be the front runners this year.
"I’m tipping my hat towards seeing some surprises from Renwick as well as Marist and Stoke, I think those will be the four leading teams.”
With such a big new nucleus of players from college and outside the province, there will be big opportunities for players to stake their claim in 2018.
Waimea Old Boys2017-Champions.
Defending NPD Tasman Trophy champions Waimea are being tipped by many punters as the early favourites for the 2018 competition.
Co-coach Mark Milne says the squad has a new look this season.
"We have got quite a different side to last year, I think it might take a while to mould them into a cohesive, competitive unit but we have some exciting young players.”
The side will be led by co-captains Daniel Hytongue and Billy Guyton.
Billy will re-join his clubmates with the returning Sam Pratley after Super Rugby campaigns in 2017 with the Blues.
Buller point scoring machine James Lash will run the show from first five and has the ability to break opposition apart.
"We are pretty excited to have that experience around because with the shorter competition, we will have to hit the ground early.”
He says the side had reasonable success last year, and you never go into a competition not wanting to be at the business end of it.
"Like every club, we are aiming to be there at the end.”
Waimea will blood some promising young players from the academy including fullback Caleb Coventry and hooker Max Fraine.
"We are looking forward to seeing how they progress.”
Jeff Luca will be key up front while Kaide Whiting is also back from injury.
Mark says those are the key guys that will drive the side along with Billy, Daniel and Sam.
"We have had a good pre-season and we are looking forward to what will be a pretty cut-throat competition.”
The 2018 Tasman Trophy will mark the 150th anniversary for New Zealand’s oldest club.
Defending champions Nelson FC have been the region’s most successful club in recent times, having won the Tasman Trophy 11 times in the last 14 years.
Nelson will look to go back to back in the Nelson competition after defeating Wanderers 41-19 in last year’s final.
Club president Shane Graham says the club hope to mark the significant milestone with another title.
"We have a good squad together and it is an important year for us being our 150th year, we are confident we will be there or there about to challenge at the end.”
Nelson have maintained their management but have lost 17 players form their successful 2017 campaign.
"We have gone back to the future a bit, relying on some of our established guys while also blooding some exciting young players.”
The club does have a number of players away on representative duties including their latest All Black David Havili.
"We might get them back for a solitary game but aren’t counting on it.”
Mike Lash says Nelson may struggle after such a mass exodus of their core.
"It’s a big chunk, losing Ethan Blackadder will hurt, he was hands down the next in the comp last year.”Prop Kershawl Sykes-Martin from St Kents will also be one to watch.
Mike says the sides success will fall heavily on Willis Scott and Willy Havili at first-five.
With the retention of the majority of last year’s squad and experienced coach Graham Pitman the Stoke Club have a good foundation to start the 2018 season strongly."Having a strong nucleus of retained local players, who have been with the team for the last couple of seasons, should get the side off to a good start,” says Graham.
Graham has been joined by backs coach Gary Alsop who took the Stoke Division 2 team into the semi-finals last year as well as managing the Tasman Mako Women’s Team.
The return of game breaking full-back Sam Chamberlain who was one of the top try scorers in last year’s competition, along with ex-warrior’s player Tomas Aoake and Tasman Mako player Rupena Parkinson brings the promise of speed and quick footwork in the backline.
A shoulder injury to prop Blair Prinsep 12 months ago saw him sidelined for the 2017 Tasman Mako season. He is a making a welcome return to Club rugby through Stoke and will add valuable experience to the front row.
Stoke have lost the services of Paripari Parkinson to the Highlanders but have gained ex Fijian 7’s international player Isei Lewaqai who has been playing Heartland Rugby for Buller and West Coast for the last three seasons.
Two key signings for Stoke are the Canterbrian loose forwards Anty Burnett and Hugo Nankivell. Anty is an ex Canterbury U19’s player while Hugo joins the Club from the very successful Lincoln University team.
"The Green Machine has never looked better with a perfect balance between experience and young talent making up the squad lining up to tackle the 2018 season,” says Marist assistant coach Aaron Shields.
Gavin Briggs, the Marist stalwart, returns to Head Coach in 2018 with some familiar support staff and also the addition of Shawn Begg as strategy and backs coach after hanging up the boots in 2017. "New talent to the club brings lightning speed, game vision and ball carrying physicality,” Aaron says.
Look out for Caleb Havilli, Sam Moli and Fuiva Takitaki running off last season’s workhorses Te Pouho Stevens, Ryan Dafel and the Sami brothers.
"In the backs, new speed comes in the form of Matt Stevenson at fullback who is guaranteed to leave players stretching for the tackle while Jamie Spowart returns with his silky skills and some bulk to boot after a dedicated offseason."Renwick2017: Fifth
Wise heads in the form of Sam Briggs, Lote Saulekaleka and James Hawkey will control the backline and develop new faces Taine Robinson, Max Nalder and Connor Karena who steps up a grade in 2018. Familiar faces round out the backline from the 2017 season and are anxious to stamp their mark early on what can only be described as an attacking arsenal.
Aaron says the team took a fresh approach in offseason starting early Jan building a solid base fitness and brother hood simultaneously.
One to watch: Fullback, Glen Ballam has freakish counter attacking ability.
One to watch: Tasman stalwart Robbie Malneek. Like a fine wine, the utility back just gets better with age and having played 100 games for the Mako, will be a massive asset.
Ones to watch: 19-year-old lock Tim Sail had a strong season last year which resulted in him representing Tasman Mako U19’s.
Ones to watch: Livewire halfback Ben Finau was the Marlborough club player of the year in 2017 and will be lloking to crack the Mako squad this season.
One to watch: Prop Seymour Lambert will lead his men around the park with incomparable passion.
One to watch: Tim O’Malley, the Mako first five will again run the ship for Waitohi after a breakout season last year.
One to watch: After losing a large chunk of their backline, Fletcher Matthews will be key for the Wanderers in the midfield.
NPD Tasman Trophy 2018 Round one:Nelson vs. Wanderers at Neale Park.
Waimea Old Boys vs. Stoke at Jubilee Park.
Kahurangi vs. Marist at Sports Park, Motueka.
Renwick vs. Waitohi at Renwick Domain.
Central vs. Moutere at Lansdowne Park.
East Coast, BYE.