Motivated Marist want to prove mettle against brilliant Border.

The concept of a clear Top 3 and notable Bottom 3 in the six-team Tasman Tanning Premier competition may well be consigned to 2020 where it belongs, as a new campaign kicks off on Saturday.

While the WRFU has retained the shorter season format, while the schedule returns to a more traditional April start time following the delays of last season, a number of the Premier sides have been able to replenish their stocks, which could even out the scorelines and match results.

McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu were able to make the semifinals last year with only two wins from ten matches, as there was a clear demarcation line to the leading clubs in eventual champions Waverley Harvesting Border, runners up Byford’s Readimix Taihape and fellow semifinalists Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau.

Not part of that conversation, even though they only technically missed the playoffs by a point, were Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist, but thanks to finally having some continuity in their approach with debut coach Travers Hopkins returning for another season – the first retained regime in several years – Marist want to show Border they’ve stepped up their game at Spriggens Park this Saturday.

Last year’s efforts were sobering – Marist losing to Border  79-19 on July 25 in Waverley, then 44-10 on August 29 at Spriggens, but with 30-odd players now considered part of his Premier playing group, Hopkins is confident he won’t be faced with shortage of resources from season’s past.

“We haven’t lost many players – we didn’t have a lot to lose.

“It’s really promising, compared to 11 months ago.

“We were able to step outside a bit – ‘what works and what doesn’t work?’

“It wasn’t working, player-numbers wise.

“For me, it was about building the culture and attitude. You’ll be tested when the hard times come.”

Before Border won their Premier title on Cooks Gardens last September, the Tasman Tanning Senior final was played, and Hopkins has secured talent from players on both sides of that game.

“Duane [Brown]’s done a really good job nurturing those guys coming through,” said Hopkins of the Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Marist Celtic coach.

As well as Celtic, joining the club from the championship-winning Harvey Round Motors Ratana side are the likes of tough prop Shade Tuaine-Whanau and athletic winger Jamie Robertson.

Add to those personnel is the return home of Daniel Kauika (above) , who television viewers will remember from the TV3 show 2nd Chance Charlie last year.

 “I’m just glad to have him back,” said Hopkins.

These talented young players compliment the veterans like prop Viki Tofa, lock Lake Ah Chong and stalwart captain Bradley Graham, and add to the incumbent Steelform Whanganui representative players in hooker Jack Yarrall, lock Brad O’Leary and inspirational midfielder Josiah Bogileka.

Muscling up in the pack could be the key for Marist, who have to keep the ball away from Border’s much vaunted backs as often as possible.

“There’s no secret of the fact that anywhere from 9-14 they’re pretty lethal – it’s a formidable backline,” said Hopkins.

“They are the carry-over champs for a reason. We’re going to take it to them; we’re not going to shy away from any team this year.

“There’s nowhere to hide in this competition. You have to put your best out there.”

Having won the Premier title in his debut coaching season, the 105-capped former Whanganui hooker Cole Baldwin has continued his shrewd man-management of Premier’s proven commodities.

Border changed from the traditional Tuesday-Thursday training sessions to extended Wednesday evening hit-outs last year and will keep that schedule.

The playmaking contingent of Lindsay Horrocks, Craig Clare and Nick Harding know how to set the direction and the tempo of a game without over-practicing anything.

And once they set the speedster cousins Vereniki Tikoisolomone and Alekesio Vakarorogo loose, Border are nigh-on uncatchable.

“We started quite late, the middle of March, just to give everyone a decent offseason,” said Baldwin.

One player getting plenty of development is sophomore loose forward Semi Vodosese, who has been part of the Hurricanes Under 20 group with fellow former Whanganui Collegiate alumni Harry Godfrey and Ben Strang.

“We’re not putting too much pressure on him, because people will be keeping an eye on him,” said Baldwin.

“We’ve got a couple of other guys coming in as well. Hopefully they buy into what we’re trying to achieve.”

Specifically, Baldwin is looking for men to step up in the engine room, as the one notable absence from the 2020 champions is dynamic Whanganui prop Kamipeli Latu, who has moved to Tauranga.

“He’s a big loss. It’s an opportunity for someone else to take over.”

Regarding the opposition, Baldwin also holds with the theory that a wider distribution of talent across the clubs should make for a tougher season.

“You just look at the players on every team; everyone can knock everyone over.

“Not going to take any team for granted this year. Taihape and Kaierau will be looking to go a little bit further.

“It’s going to be a quick sprint to the finish line. Can’t slip in too many games.”

In the other opening day matchups, Taihape will make the longest trip of their campaign into the Waitotara Valley to meet Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri, who should have a much deeper roster than the side’s last meeting up New Zealand’s longest no-exit road.

Kaierau will host Ruapehu in what should be a physical clash at the Country Club.

The draw is:

Premier (2.30pm kickoffs):

    • Marist vs Border, Spriggens Park
    • Ngamatapouri vs Taihape, Waitotara Valley
    • Kaierau vs Ruapehu, Country Club.

By Jared Smith