Counties Manukau retain solid core for 2017

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Saturday, August 12, 2017    Getty Images

They finished a creditable fourth in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership, losing to eventual winners Canterbury in the semifinals and have retained a solid core as they look to improve in 2017.

Coaches Darryl Suasua, Grant Henson and Semo Sititi named a squad with 23 players who have played for the side before and seven newcomers. And of the squad 13 bring Super Rugby experience to the equation.

Among the new caps is New Zealand Under-20 World Cup-winning second five-eighths Orbyn Leger, who follows in the footsteps of his father Gus in representing the province.

Joining the side from the Brumbies is midfielder Nigel Ah Wong while Maori All Black and former Bay of Plenty hooker Joe Royal will boost the side up front where Nepo Laulala could also be available pending All Blacks commitments.

Samoan international Albert Nikoro, who was born in the region, has recovered from an eye injury received in the June Test against the All Blacks and will join the side from his Super Rugby side the Force.

Local talent included in the side are halfback Liam Daniela and the midfielder Salimoni Tukinia.

Offering a genuine core of experience for the side will be Blues halfback Augustine Pulu and Jimmy Tupou who captained the Auckland franchise for part of the season. Tupou is likely to post his half-century of appearances for the side during the season. Prop Pauliasi Manu also adds to the tight core of the side.

However, the side will have to do without wings Toni Pulu and Sione Fifita whose injuries suffered during the Super Rugby season will prevent them playing all.

Backing Pulu at halfback will be Jonathan Taumateine who was called up to play for the Chiefs when they struck injury issues during their Super Rugby campaign.

Baden Kerr will return at first five-eighths after playing in England and his goal-kicking will be valuable. He has scored 335 points in his earlier 30 games for the province. Also helping fill the gap left by Piers Francis will be Luteru Laulala. Out the back Tim Nanai Williams will provide a solid watching brief as he adds to his 56 games for the province.

Also ensuring competition in the backline for places will be Tongan fullback Kali Hala and Fijian wing Tevita Nabura.

The side's game of three halves was its first chance for a run ahead of the competition, and the 40 minutes against Taranaki and then the All Blacks had highlighted the defensive strength of the side, even when missing several players still recovering from injuries.