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Steelform Whanganui looking for leading men to step up in Napier

By Jared Smith

Steelform Whanganui should have a firmer idea of their shadow Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship team after their penultimate preseason game in Napier on Saturday.

A squad of around 25 will jump on the bus that morning for the trip to Tremain Park to play regular July-August opponents Hawke’s Bay Saracens, although circumstances still prevent coach Jason Hamlin from having his leading 22 players all at once.

The big blow coming out of last weekend’s 80th minute defeat to Taranaki Development is the rib injury to lock Josh Lane, who will be out for 4-6 weeks.

Club mate Matt Ashworth, who played the previous weekend against the Manawatu Evergreens, will slot back into the lineout, although the Whanganui Prison officer could not train on Tuesday night after being called over to Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison to assist in the recent incident.

Amongst the playmakers, the most experienced back in Lindsay Horrocks is still not available due to Covid affecting his family, although ultility back Tyler Rogers-Holden is now recovered.

“He wasn’t 100% on Tuesday night, but he’s keen as,” said Hamlin, who will start Rogers-Holden at fullback and then consider him as cover for halfback alongside Kahl Elers-Green, with Horrocks still out and Caleb Gray away on a family visit to Australia for another week.

More opportunity will also be given to Ezra Malo, who will be familiar with a lot of the Saracens after a season of club rugby in Hawke’s Bay.

“It’s done him the world of good,” said Hamlin.

“His footy IQ…he’s on the money, on the mark.”

Malo did well at fullback against Taranaki, as it was clear his level of conditioning after a longer club season against more variety of opposition has him a step above a number of team mates.

“They’re just not use to high intensity footy for longer periods of time.”

Both midfielders Timoci Seruwalu and Josiah Bogileka were hobbled during the Taranaki game but fully recovered, while Kameli Kuruyabaki returns to join them after a bout of illness.

Without Horrocks, the squad’s most capped player in Roman Tutauha has also raring to go after an ear infection.

“We’re getting the pieces back, but it’s slow,” said Hamlin.

“Same sort of thing, still people with illness, sent home from work. These things are going to happen before the season.”

As well as Malo and Manawatu-based prop Adam Coll, Hamlin will consider augmenting the squad with imports if it appears they cannot fill the gaps locally due to key absences.

“I’ve spoken to a few ex-Whanganui players, unfortunately they’re in positions that we don’t require.

“Still following through on a couple of options, but it’s not as easy as grabbing somebody from out the door.

“And if we did, I will have to address the team prior than that happening.”

In any case, for the Saracens game, Hamlin will now look to give more time to the players he believes are likely starters for the Heartland campaign, in order to establish continuity.

“In all honesty, I should have brought it forward a week. Get working to what we want to do.”

Kickoff is 2.30pm.