Southland laying groundwork for better campaign

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The side suffered a tortuous season last year winning only two games out of 10 but with some experience back in key positions they will be looking for a better showing this time around.

They do have the benefit of some heavyweight opposition at home, courtesy of crossover games and will host last season's Championship winners North Harbour, Northland, Auckland, Manawatu and Wellington.

Among their away games is a Ranfurly Shield challenge should Canterbury still hold the shield by September 8.

Blindside flanker Bill Fukofuka said: "It's a tough start to the campaign but hopefully the boys can manage it and get through.

"Last year our season didn't go well but this year the boys have been working really hard and looking forward to a new season. We've got a new team and it's pretty exciting for us to get out there and play," he said.

It would be important for the more experienced members of the side to work with the younger players who have been introduced this year.

With Lima Sopoaga having a more likely involvement with the All Blacks during the 2017 Rugby Championship there was an expectation in the south that he was unlikely to be available.

But the return from Otago of Scott Eade would cover that gap while back at halfback is Liam Howley who missed last season due to a knee injury. Elliot Dixon and Guy Millar would have key roles to play for the side after their time with the Highlanders.

"We learn from those guys who have played Super Rugby, and look up to them as well. They've been up to that level so we try to learn as much as we can from them," he said.

Flanker Tim Boys would also be back in the pack and looking to build on the 117 games he has played for the side.

The club competition had been improved this year and the Marist club had taken out the Galbraith Shield for the top prize. In their traditional warm-up game with Otago, Southland were beaten 14-17.

Coaches Hoani MacDonald and Jason Kawau have been joined by Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody while they also have a Japanese member of the Sunwolves coaching team with them all campaign in a development sharing role.