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Preview: Mitre 10 Cup Premiership

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Monday, August 15, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

We take a look at the seven teams contending in the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup Premiership and profile their chances.

AUCKLAND
Coach: Nick White
Last season: Beaten finalist
Squad: Charlie Faumuina, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Sam Prattley, Marcel Renata, Tom McHugh, Isi Tu’ungafasi, James Lay, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Kurt Eklund, Patrick Tuipulotu, Scott Scrafton Michael Fatialofa, Liaki Moli, Ben Nee Nee, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Taleni Seu, Siosiua (Josh) Kaifa, Blake Gibson, Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray, Joe Edwards, Akira Ioane, Leon Fukofuka, Jono Hickey, Simon Hickey, Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Calvary Fonoti, Latiume Fosita, George Moala, Malakai Fekitoa, Vince Aso, Rieko Ioane, Pasqualle Dunn, Liam Steel, Joe Ravouvou, Lolagi Visinia, Melani Nanai 

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Players to watch: In Melani Nanai, Blake Gibson and the Ioane brothers (Akira and Rieko), Auckland boast four of the most promising players in the country. Nanai electrified Super Rugby fans with his elusive counter attack running while Blake Gibson shone with his pilfering ability and ball running before being struck down by injury early in the Super Rugby season. The Ioane brothers are fresh from the Olympics where they both starred with their dynamic running.

Prospects: After losing the final by just two points to Canterbury last year, Auckland coach Nick White will want to go one better this year and has the team to do it. While the backline is full of exciting talent, the forward pack has a look of steel about it with Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Sam Prattley and Greg Pleasents-Tate shoring up a solid front row.

CANTERBURY
Coach: Scott Roberston
Last season: Champions

Squad: Lee Roy Atalifo, Jordie Barrett, Scott Barrett, Dominic Bird, George Bridge, Jed Brown, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Hamish Dalzell, Mitch Drummond, Nathan Earle, Ere Enari, Inga Finau, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Jack Goodhue, Billy Harmon, Alex Hodgman, Oli Jager, Milford Keresoma, Daniel Lienert-Brown, David McDuling, Johnny McNicholl, Richie Mo'unga, Joe Moody, Reed Prinsep, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Jack Stratton, Marshall Suckling, Codie Taylor, Rob Thompson, Matt Todd, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Vella, Ben Volavola, Poasa Waqanibau, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock

Players to watch:
With a number of All Blacks stars expected to be unavailable due to the Investec Rugby Championship, expect the Barrett brothers, Jordie and Scott, to step up. Scott is a towering lock who has impressed for the Crusaders with his set piece proficiency and strong ball carrying. Jordie is a dynamic ball runner and astute tactical kicker. Jordie played well at second five-eighth for the New Zealand Under 20s this year and will be looking to lock in a spot in the Canterbury midfield.

Prospects: It is hard to look past Canterbury as favourites again this season. Even with the likely absence of their All Blacks stars, there is plenty of firepower in the ranks with pivot Richie Mo’unga, halfback Mitchell Drummond, prop Daniel Lienert-Brown and powerful loose forward Tom Sanders all top prospects.

Counties Manukau

Coach: Darryl Suasua
Last season: Fifth
Squad: Jarred Adams, Sam Aiono, Sean Bagshaw, Nathan De Thierry, Hika Elliot, Sootala Fa’aso’o, Sione Faletau, Sione Fifita, Piers Francis, Joseph Ikenasio, Richard Judd, Luteru Laulala, Orbyn Leger, Fotu Lokotui, Matiaha Martin, Sione Molia, Augustine Pulu, Toni Pulu
Viliame Rarasea, Joe Reynolds, Cameron Skelton, Sherwin Stowers, Gafatasi Su’a, Suliasi Taufalele, Jordan Taufua, Viliami Taulani, Jonathan Taumateine, Kalolo Tuiloma, Jimmy Tupou
Cardiff Vaega, Sam Vaka

Players to watch: All Blacks Sevens stars Sione Molia and Augustine Pulu will be looking for a big season for Counties Manukau after returning from the Olympics while Cameron Skelton will add real bulk to the pack. Brother of Wallaby international Will Skelton, Cameron is even bigger than his brother at 2.07m and 145kg.

Prospects: While the Counties Manukau backline is sure to be at its brilliant best, it is upfront where they may struggle with the losses of props Nepo Laulala and Pauliasi Manu to injury. Veteran hooker Hika Elliot will be called on to lead young props Kalolo Tuiloma, Jarred Adams and Sione Faletau in a tricky debut season for the trio. If they can get parity upfront, then the Steelers will be a force. 



Hawke’s Bay
Coach: Craig Phillpot
Last season: Promoted from the Championship
Squad: Ash DIXON, Brendon EDMONDS, Tolu FAHAMOKIOA, Mason KEAN, Jason LONG, Ben MAY, Ricky RICCITELLI, Jorian TANGAERE, Mark ABBOTT, Michael ALLARDICE, Geoff CRIDGE, Ross FILIPO, Brodie RETALLICK, Sanaila WAQA, Trent BOSWELL-WAKEFIELD, Gareth EVANS, Ben HAMELINK, Tony LAMBORN, Marino MIKAELE TU'U, Hugh RENTON, Fa'alemiga SELESELE, Chris EATON, Tiaan FALCON, Brad WEBER, Ihaia WEST, llery WILSON, Robbie FRUEAN, Matt GARLAND, Jonah LOWE, Lewis MARSHALL, Billy ROPIHA, Shannan CHASE, Israel DAGG, Mason EMERSON, Sam MCNICOL, Ryan TONGIA

Players to watch: After stealing the Ranfurly Shield from under their nose last year playing for Waikato, fleet footed halfback Brad Weber is now on the Magpies roster and will look to form a dangerous combination with Ihaia West. In New Zealand Under 20s wing Jonah Lowe, Hawke’s Bay also boast one of the most exciting outside back prospects in the country.

Prospects: Although Hawke’s Bay are newly promoted, they have recruited well in the off season and have a team that is capable of winning the title. While there is plenty of youth in the side, the signing of veteran lock Ross Filipo will provide a steady influence on and off the field.

Taranaki
Coach: Colin Cooper
Last season: Losing semi-finalist
Squad: Mitchell Graham, Reuben O’Neill, Ryan Cocker, Mike Kainga, Jared Proffit, Rhys Marshall, Sione Lea, Leon Power, Ben Matwijow, Fin Hoeata, Leighton Price, Mitchell Crosswell, Mitchell Brown, Berny Hall, Lachlan Boshier, Toa Halafihi, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Kylem O’Donnell, Marty McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Johnny Fa’auli, Latu Vaeno, Manasa Mataele, Stephen Perofeta, Declan O’Donnell, Beaudein Waaka, Jackson Ormond, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett

Players to watch: With the loss of second rowers James Broadhurst, Riki Hoeta and Blade Thomson to injury, Taranaki have plugged the gap with promising Queensland Reds lock Ben Matijow and NZ Under 20s player Fin Hoeata. In the backline, every player is one to watch with Colin Cooper naming a star-studded backline including All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Waisake Naholo and the promising Stephen Perofeta, Declan O’Donell and Sean Wainui.

Prospects: After winning the title in 2014, Taranaki will be looking to repeat the feat with a well-balanced side named by head coach Colin Cooper. While the backline is among the most exciting in the competition, Taranaki are bolstered by a number of promising forwards including Lachlan Boshier at openside flanker and Mitchell Graham at prop.

Tasman
Coach: Leon McDonald
Last season: Losing semi-finalist
Squad: Jesse MacDonald, Andrew Makalio, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Kane Hames, Tom Hill, Ross Geldenhuys, Tim Perry, Blair Prinsep, Alex Ainley, Shannon Frizell, Jeff Lepa, Quinten Strange, Shane Christie (C), Vernon Fredericks, Tevita Koloamatangi, Pete Samu, Liam Squire Billy Guyton, Finlay Christie, Marty Banks, Mitchell Hunt, Tim O'Malley, Kieron Fonotia, David Havili, Trael Joass, Alex Nankivell, Richard Kingi, Viliami Lolohea, James Lowe, Josh Tafili, Tima Faingaanuku, Jesse Pitman-Joass

Players to watch: Kane Hames had a breakout season at prop for the Chiefs and will be looking to build on that for Tasman – as long as All Blacks commitments don’t get in the way. In the backs, speedy wing James Lowe has been pressing for higher honours for a couple of years now and will be looking for another big season.

Prospects: Tasman have shown over the past few seasons that they are a team to be respected and that doesn’t change this year. With the hard-working Shane Christie back as captain and former All Blacks fullback Leon McDonald taking over the coaching reigns, expect Tasman to feature at the business end of the season.

WAIKATO
Coach: Sean Botherway
Last season: Sixth
Squad: Loni Uhila, Latu Talakai, Hame Faiva, Steven Misa, Atu Moli, Tau Koloamatangi, Sefo Kautai, James Tucker, Brian Alainu'uese, Jacob Skeen, Leva Fifita, Whetu Douglas, Mitch Jacobson, Adam Burn, Jordan Manihera, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Harrison Levien, Pele Cowley, Isaac Boss, Damian McKenzie, Stephen Donald, Sam Christie, Willis Halaholo, Tevita Taufui, Nathaniel Apa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Sevu Reece, Shaun Stevenson,
Jordan Trainor

Players to watch: After spending three seasons in the New Zealand Under 20 side, promising openside flanker Mitchell Jacobsen will look to make the step up from age grade rugby this year. In the backline the return of Isaac Boss will be keenly watched as he joins forces with 2011 Rugby World Cup hero Stephen Donald.

Prospects: Aside from winning the Ranfurly Shield in the final game of the 2015 season, Waikato had a largely disappointing season and could fly under the radar this year. With a number of young stars balanced out by some returning veterans, do not be surprised if Waikato grab a semi-final spot.