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Players’ last chance to stake a claim

BACK IN BLUE: After a nine-year absence, Pirates front rower Brett Turner earned his spot in the Wanganui team for their pre-season game against King Country tomorrow. PHOTO/FILE A-040615WCSMRUGBY3
BACK IN BLUE: After a nine-year absence, Pirates front rower Brett Turner earned his spot in the Wanganui team for their pre-season game against King Country tomorrow.

TWO YOUNG men from Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay will get their audition with the Steelform Wanganui team as they join the Raetihi camp today, ahead of tomorrow’s pre-season clash with King Country in Ohakune.

Coach Jason Caskey has invited Manawatu prop Isaac Tupai and Hawke’s Bay’s former NZ Sevens player Trinity Spooner-Neera to join the team in camp for tomorrow’s game at Rochfort Park, which promises to be a big afternoon as the Wanganui and King Country Development squads will also meet in the curtain-raiser.

Caskey was at pains to make clear these two are not yet official imports for Wanganui’s Heartland squad, but they are “having a look” at them in this non-first class game, much in the same vein as Te Kawau lock Liam Mitchell getting a run in Wanganui’s 19-12 win over Wairarapa-Bush on June 24, and Wellington’s Hilton Mexted playing in the Town v Country trial on June 1.

Tupai was understood to be an outside contender for the Manawatu Turbos wider squad, but needed to drop some weight, while 20-year-old Spooner-Neera could be a real pickup – having been a NZ Schoolboys representative, Hawke’s Bay Magpie, and played four 2013 tournaments for the All Black Sevens team.

The rest of the Wanganui squad had their first training run on Wednesday night, although their two most interesting first five selections – recalled veteran Denning Tyrell (work) and Collegiate’s Stephen Perofeta (college game) – couldn’t attend.

Perofeta took a knock to the ribs but will be assessed in camp as to whether he gets some game time tomorrow, although in any case the first-string No10s will be incumbent Areta Lama and NZ Heartland Under-19 player Zyon Hekenui.

“It’s no real major [who starts], it’s a trial, we’ll learn a bit more.”

Fitness will also be key for players like the recalled loose forward Fraser Hammond, who did not have many club matches for Ruapehu this season.

“I said last night [Wednesday], ‘I’m only interested in people that want to play for Wanganui’, and by play I mean not just turn up,” said Caskey.

Always keeping a big Rolodex from his years as a player and two stints as Wanganui coach, Caskey has offered a number of players a second chance.

Pirates prop/hooker Brett Turner, off overseas with his family at the end of the year, is back in Wanganui colours for the first time since 2006.

While it could be said Turner fills the role of the cagey veteran front rower, in the absence of Shaun McDonough and Vaan Rauhina, Caskey pointed to his strong performance in partnership with Wanganui newcomer Tololi Moala in the grand final victory over Border.

“There’s a little bit of that [experience], but it’s more that [his form] warrants it.”

Tomorrow will be King Country’s last pre-season match before the start of the Heartland Championship on August 22.

They picked up a 19-17 win over the Taranaki Development XV last weekend in Piopio – a feat never to be sneezed at in the modern rugby climate.

Of the 27-man squad named, only six were part of the King Country squad at the end of last year that defeated Wanganui 30-29 in the final pool match, and were then shocked 37-6 a week later in the Lochore Cup semifinals.

However, those returning are the key names like captain Aarin Dunster, halfback Zayn Tipping and flanker Anthony Wise.

Wise returns again as a loan player from Waikato rugby with the nearby Otorohanga Rugby Club, and is joined by his clubmate backs Te Hata Wilbore and Joe Perawiti (origin player).

“They always get quite a few over there – nothing new with that,” said Caskey.

It should be a willing clash because, as well as any lingering rivalry from the end of 2014, King Country and Wanganui played a spirited pre-season match last year in Turangi, King Country coming from 21-6 behind before Wanganui regained the lead to win 35-34.

“Last year they were pretty excited when they got in front.” Caskey said.

The game will be four 20-minute quarters. Kick-off is 2.30pm.

By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle

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