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Preview: Mitre 10 Cup Championship

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

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

BAY OF PLENTY
Coach: Clayton MacMillan
Last season: Losing semi-finalist

Squad: Nathan Harris, Liam Polwart, Joseph Royal, Sabastian Siataga, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi - Rotoiti, Jordan Lay, Aidan Ross, Solomona Sakalia, Pingi Tala'apitaga, Jeff Thwaites, Troy Callander, Shahn Eru, Keepa Mewett, Culum Retallick, Matty Axtens, Hugh Blake, Sam Cane, Mitchell Karpik, Jesse Parete, Henry Stowers, Eru Wano-Smith, Joe Tupe, Luke Campbell, Ruki Tipuna, Te Aihe Toma, Kelly Haimona, Dan Hollinshead, Lalakai Foketi, Terrence Hepetema, Teddy Stanaway, Joe Webber, Te Rangi Fraser, Monty Ioane, Elijah Nicholas, Chase Tiatia, Isaac Te Aute, Regan Ware

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Players to watch: If the number of All Blacks sevens stars in the Bay of Plenty side is anything to go by, then expect plenty of expansive play from the Clayton MacMillan coached side. Dynamic backs Teddy Stanaway, Joe Webber, Isaac Te Aute and Regan Ware are sure to keep opposition defences guessing all season long.

Prospects: With a team full of electric runners and play makers, Bay of Plenty cannot be discounted as a title threat. The potential unavailability of flanker Sam Cane and hooker Nathan Harris to All Blacks duty will be a blow but the addition of exciting flanker Mitchell Karpik will provide a boost.

MANAWATU
Coach: Jeremy Cotter
Last season: Relegated from the Premiership

Squad: Ambrose Curtis, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Callum Gibbins, Chris Eves, Curtis Reid, Fraser Armstrong, Hamish Northcott, Harrison Brewer, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Hunter Prescott, Jackson Hemopo, Jamie Booth, Jason Emery, Kane Thompson, Kayne Hammington, Liam Hallam-Eames, Luther Hirini, Michael Alaalatoa, Nathan Tudreu, Newton Tudreu, Ngani Laumape, Otere Black, Sam Malcolm, Tim Cadwallader, Toby Morland, Tom Parsons, Travis Taylor, Tukiterangi Raimona, Valentino Mapapalangi, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith

Players to watch: There’s no shortage of flair in the Manawatu backline with electric wing Ambrose Curtis, powerful midfielder Jason Emery and classy playmaker Otere Black all capable of game breaking moments. Up front, 135kg Crusaders prop Michael Alaalatoa will want to build on his solid form in Super Rugby.

Prospects: With a well-rounded team and depth across the park, Manawatu will be hoping to reclaim their place in the Premiership after being relegated last year. There’s no shortage of Super Rugby experience throughout the side and a potential late season injury return of All Blacks speedster Nehe Milner-Skudder could provide an added boost.



NORTHLAND
Coach: Richie Harris
Last season: 7th

Squad: Chris Apoua, Phil Kite, Howard Sililoto, Matt Talaese, Namatahi Wa'a, Sesimani Tupou , Matt Moulds, Jordan Olsen, Ross Wright, Josh Goodhue, Shane Neville, Tom Robinson, Sean Sweetman, Josh Larsen, Michael Faleafa, Matt Matich, Dan Pryor, Kara Pryor, Jack Ram, Aorangi Stokes, Epineri Uluviti, Matty Markwick, Malcolm McLeod, Sam Nock, Peter Breen, Dan Hawkins, Warren Dunn, Troy Gilbert, Jordan Hyland, Tamati Tua, James Cherrington, Solomon Alaimalo, Monty Lama, Waisea Lawebuka, Jone Macilai, Levi Clark

Players to watch:
New Zealand Under 20s halfback Sam Nock has performed well at age group level for a couple of years now and will be looking to make the step up for Northland. The Taniwha boast a strong loose forward trio which will be crucial to their chances this year. Brothers Dan and Kara Pryor will be joined by Jack Ram in one of the most polished combinations in the entire Mitre 10 Cup.

Prospects: The only way is up for Northland after a winless 2015 campaign which yielded just one losing bonus point across the whole season. The signing of veteran first five-eighth Peter Breen from Otago will add direction to the backline while electric wing Jone Macilai showed for the Crusaders this year that he is a game breaker.

NORTH HARBOUR
Coach: Steve Jackson
Last season: 5th
Squad: James Parsons, Ray Niuia, Karl Tu'uinkuafe, Nic Mayhew, Sione Mafileo, Adrian Smith, Toketa Fatai, Gerard Cowley-Mariner, Brandon Nansen, Chris Vui, Murphy Taramai, Hapakuki Liavaa–Moala, Kane Jacobsen, Glen Preston, Josh Tyrell, Bryn Hall, Chris Smylie, Bryn Gatland, Matt McGahan, James Little, Pita Ahki, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Rene Ranger, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Tevita Li, Matt Duffie, Marty Swartt, Afa Faatau

Players to watch: Hooker James Parsons had a strong season for the Blues and will be a lynch pin upfront for North Harbour. In the backs, the halfback-first five-eighth combination of Bryn Hall and Matt McGahan will be vital to North Harbour’s chances.

Prospects: Underachievers in recent season, North Harbour have a chance to be a contender in 2016 with an experienced forward pack and a potent back line ready to make an impact. With plenty of Super Rugby experience across the side and a number of rising stars, including 18-year-old midfielder James Little and former New Zealand sevens representative Murphy Taramai, North Harbour will be disappointed if they don’t improve on last year’s fifth placing.

OTAGO
Coach: Cory Brown
Last season: Losing semi-finalist

Squad: Allan Lee, Sam Anderson-Heather, Donald Brighouse, Michael Collins, Liam Coltman, Naulia Dawai, Joshua Dickson, Scott Eade, Tony Ensor, Matt Faddes, Tom Franklin, Fa’asiu Fuata’i, Paul Grant, Dillon Hunt, Adam Knight, James Lentjes, Craig Millar, Hayden Parker, Josh Renton, Jono Ruru, Hisa Sasagi, Aki Seiuli, Ben Smith, Fletcher Smith, Gavin Stark, Sio Tomkinson, Blair Tweed, Tei Walden, Kaide Whiting, Jack Wilson,

Players to watch: The return from injury of classy play maker Hayden Parker will be closely watched throughout the season while dynamic utility Matt Faddes will be looking to continue the prolific try scoring form he displayed during the Super Rugby campaign.
Prospects: Last year Otago made the semi-finals on the back of a simple game plan and hard-working forward pack. If they are to progress further this year they may need to display play even more expansively. If exciting backs Matt Faddes, Jack Wilson and Tei Walden can hit their attacking straps then Otago will be a contender.

SOUTHLAND
Coach: Hoani Macdonald
Last season: 6th

Squad: Brayden Mitchell (c), Tim Boys, Jimmy Cowan, Dylan Collier, Elliot Dixon, Bill Fukofuka, Phil Halder, Wharenui Hawera, Keanu Kahukura, Peni Ravai, Mika Mafi, Mike McKee, Morgan Mitchell, Wade McRae, Guy Millar, Kieran Moffat, Mike Molloy, Aleki Morris, Junior Ngaluafe, Matthew Philip, James Schrader, Lima Sopoaga, Ezekiel Sopoaga, Mike Stewart, Shaun Stodart, Jaye Thompson Te Muunu, Tauasosi Tuimavave, Jahvis Wallace

Players to watch:
After four years away, veteran halfback Jimmy Cowan returns to Southland for what could be his last season for the side. Hard working loose forward Tim Boys is another veteran to watch while All Blacks Sevens speedster Dylan Collier has arrived from Waikato to add some pace to the Stags backline.

Prospects:
With eight new players in the squad, there is a rebuilding feel to the Stags side for 2016. But with inspirational new coach Hoani Macdonald at the helm, there will be no shortage in the maroon jersey as they look to improve on last year’s sixth placing in the Championship.

WELLINGTON
Coach: Earl V’a
Last season: Losing finalist

Squad: Asafo Aumua, Leni Apasai, Valentine Meachen, Alex Fidow, Chris Baumann, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Joe Apikotoa, Reg Goodes, Vince Sakaria, Christian Lloyd, Hoani Matenga, Kane Leaupepe, Mark Reddish, Sam Lousi, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields (c), Galu Taufale, Greg Foe, Issac O'Connor, Sheridan Rangihuna, Tomasi Palu, TJ Va'a, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Matt Proctor, Mike Lealavaa, Shaun Treeby, Wesley Goosen, Jason Woodward, Joe Hill, Losi Filipo, Malo Tuitama, Peter Umaga-Jensen. All Blacks: Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea.

Players to watch: A lot of interest will hinge on the performance of the Lions two overseas stars. With usual tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen out injured with a broken arm, USA Eagles international Chris Baumann comes into the Lions squad. At 119 kg, Baumann will add significant bulk to the front row and will be complemented by former Warriors league star Sam Lousi who comes into the second row.

Prospects: It was heart break for Wellington in 2015 when they went down to Hawke’s Bay by just one point in the Championship final. Coach Earl Va’a has a policy of promoting youth and if the young players can find their feet quickly then the Lions will once again challenge for promotion to the Premiership.