The King rake is coming back for his throne.
After over two months on the sideline with a broken arm, Steelform Wanganui’s 58-game hooker Roman Tutauha has been included on the bench for Saturday’s Mitre 10 Heartland Championship fixture with the lower tier Buller at Cooks Gardens.
Having steel plates inserted into his arm after the July 21 Wanganui Premier club final, the 32-year-old Tutauha has met his two month recovery prognosis almost on the nose, and is decidedly eager to get back into the team he co-captained to the 2017 Meads Cup title.
“He’s passed the doc and is cleared to play,” said coach Jason Caskey.
Champing at the bit is probably an understatement – he’d be dying to get out there.”
Ironically, nearly two years ago to the day, Tutauha played in the Whanganui Maori curtain raiser match at Cooks Gardens to allow the youngster Jack Yarrall to make his Heartland debut as Cole Baldwin’s understudy.
This time, Caskey prefers the veteran rejoin the side immediately, rather than work himself into some match fitness with the Maori match, with Yarrall starting hooker while Dylan Gallien, originally intended to be an apprentice this season, steps aside.
“Straight back into the scene. I’d rather [Tutauha] be in the environment,” said Caskey.
“It gives us an opportunity next week [against East Coast] to look at our options.
“I wouldn’t want him to play more than 30 minutes anyway. Maybe more next week.
“Jack and Dylan have done pretty well, got a lot more rugby than they were going to.”
While Tutauha is confirmed, other players had a bit more of a wait coming into tonight’s training, as props Gabriel Hakaraia and Wiremu Cottrell were bracketed with the incumbents Viki Tofa and Kamipeli Latu, who both took knocks to the leg in the win over King Country in Te Kuiti.
If Tofa and Latu are cleared to start, Hakaraia will be preferred for the reserve spot after missing out last weekend.
“We’re maintaining the four of them because you need four of them. We don’t anything between one to the other,” said Caskey.
And once again, the question of Angus Middleton or Jamie Hughes hangs in the air for the No 7 jumper, with Caskey spoilt for the choice.
“Against King Country, Angus was ‘horses for courses’. This week, Buller, we’re a bit better suited with Jamie.”
Hughes played a key role in the dying minutes of the 2016 Meads Cup final at Cooks Gardens, which was the last time Wanganui played Buller, having missed their fellow Meads Cup semifinalists last season.
The other noteworthy changes are in the backline, where utility back Tyler Rogers-Holden gets his big break at fullback, with Craig Clare, who had the ball on a string against King Country, moving into first-five ahead of Dane Whale.
“Tyler’s been going well, and deserving of a start,” said Caskey.
Having lost lightning winger Harry Symes with a dislocated shoulder, 51-game veteran Simon Dibben comes back into the starting lineup, while new reserve Tom Symes will get the chance to uphold family honour for his younger brother, while also making his Heartland rugby debut.
“There’s one where they’re pretty similar, not just brothers, but in game and strengths,” said Caskey of Tom Symes.
Having had wisdom teeth issues, Kaveni Dabenaise withdraws this week with Kameli Kuruyabaki starting centre and Shandon Scott coming back onto the bench.
After making the Meads Cup playoffs in three of the past four seasons, New Zealand’s smallest union Buller have really struggled this year, losing to North Otago 30-24 in Oamaru, then King Country 30-28 in Westport, before hammerings by Thames Valley (43-22) and Wairarapa Bush (61-29) at home and away.
They showed signs in their second half against West Coast last weekend in Westport, but ultimately lost the Rundle Cup to their neighbours 34-28.
Even so, Caskey warned his undefeated team at Tuesday night training that they cannot let the foot off the accelerator.
“[First-five] James Lash was out for 3-4 weeks.
“It’s really tricky, those ones. Sometimes you’re actually playing pretty well, but something is not clicking.
“You need something to click and they’re very much in that situation.
“We’ll just have to make sure it’s not against us.”
Coached by the very experienced Craig Scanlon, Buller still have the evergreen Luke Brownlee, approaching 200 games for Buller, and fellow veterans Logan Mundy (116) and Andrew Stephens (112).
Their imports are lock Caleb Aperahama, flanker Samuel Godwin (both Canterbury) and centre Robbie Maineek (Tasman).
Anthony Tailua is the talented fullback who ran off Lash to score two tries in the 2016 final at Cooks Gardens.
Kickoff is 2.30pm.
The Wanganui team is
1. Viki Tofa/Gabriel Hakaraia; 2. Jack Yarrall; 3. Kamipeli Latu/Wiremu Cottrell; 4. Sam Madams; 5. Henri Williams; 6. Campbell Hart (c); 7. Angus Middleton/Jamie Hughes; 8. Michael Tafili; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Craig Clare; 11. Cameron Crowley; 12. Penijamini Nabainivalu; 13. Kameli Kuruyabaki; 14. Simon Dibben; 15. Tyler Rogers-Holden.
Reserves – Forwards: 16. Roman Tutauha/Dylan Gallien; 17. Gabriel Hakaraia/Wiremu Cottrell; 18. Tremaine Gilbert; 19. Jamie Hughes/Angus Middleton. Backs: 20. Dane Whale; 21. Shandon Scott; 22. Tom Symes.
The Buller team is
1. Logan Mundy; 2. Anthony Ellis; 3. Matangi Ropati; 4. Robbie Bonisch; 5. Caleb Aperahama; 6. Samuel Godwin; 7. Luke Brownlee; 8. Jeff Lepa; 9. Andrew Stephens; 10. James Lash; 11. Iliesa Ravudra; 12. Michael Wells; 13. Robbie Malneek; 14. Joel Hands; 15. Anthony Tailua
Reserves: 16. Jack Best; 17. Sean Eggers; 18. Zach Walsh; 19. Kahutia Parata; 20. Corey Jenkins; 21. Maifea Feso; 22. Brad Collins.
By: Jared Smith, Jared Smith