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New look Counties Manukau ready to make impact

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Friday, August 3, 2018    allblacks.com    Getty Images

After a mixed season in 2017, when an early slump was significantly reversed in the second half of the competition, they were able to run rampant in their last outing to beat Tasman 52-30 before the Nelson-based side went on to contest the Premiership final.

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Counties Manukau were a comfortable sixth place in the Premiership but will be without some key contributors to that effort for the 2018 campaign.

Missing from the side will be halfback Augustine Pulu, who is playing in Japan on a short-term contract, prop Pauliasi Manu, five-eighths Stephen Donald and Baden Kerr are all playing in Japan while utility back Tim Nanai Williams, is joining Clermont Auvergne in France.

Veteran forward Jimmy Tupou is out with injury while Pulu's likely replacement at halfback Jonathan Taumateine is out due to an injury suffered in club rugby.

Prop Nepo Laulala has had to have surgery on his broken arm and may only be ready to play towards the end of the campaign.

However, midfield back Cardiff Vaega has returned from Hawke's Bay while Sione Fifita and Toni Pulu, who both missed all of last season due to injury, will be back, with Pulu having impressed for the Chiefs in Investec Super Rugby.

Former Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma is also a late addition to the squad and provides a great boost to the halfback stocks.

The pack has a developing core of experience. Joe Royal and Gafatasi Su'a will contest the hooking duties while Sean Bagshaw (41 caps), Coree Te Whata-Colley (10), Kalolo Tuiloma (20) and new caps Samoan international Howard Sililoto, who had 31 games for Northland, and New Zealand Under-20s Wesley College product Suetana Asomua will provide the propping stocks.
Viliam Rarasea is back at lock and with 33 games he will have a leadership role along with Matiaha Martin (18) for newcomer Daymon Leasuasu, who had an outstanding season for club champions Ardmore Marist this year.

No.8 Sam Henwood had a big season last year, pushing his cause for inclusion in the Hurricanes where had also made an impact. Fijian Test player Sikeli Nabou is back after last playing for the side in 2016. He had time with Biarritz and Cardiff in the last two seasons. Fotu Lokotui showed out in his seven appearances last year. Rounding out the loose department will be Dan Hyatt (16), Matthew Vaai (8) and Viliami Taulani (7).

Luteru Laulala (21) will have the first five-eighths duties while a newcomer to the side in the position will be Latiume Fosita, who has played for both Northland and Auckland.

Second five-eighths Orbyn Leger's (10) reputation continues to grow after making his impact in the Blues side and he will be a cornerstone for the side. Vaega (21) offers experienced support while Nigel Ah Wong (10) and Sam Furniss (5) are emerging in the roles as well.

New Zealand Sevens star and World Cup Sevens champion Sione Molia (7) and Tevita Nabura (8), after his time with the Highlanders this year, should offer some thrills on the wings, especially when tied in with the emerging talent of another Sevens exponent Etene Nanai-Seturo, who will be making his debut at this level.

Division: Premiership
Last year: Fifth in Premiership

The Counties Manukau squad is: Joseph Royal, Gafatasi Su'a, Suetana Asomua, Sean Bagshaw, Nepo Laulala, Howard Sililoto, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Kalolo Tuiloma, Daymon Leasuasu, Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Sam Henwood, Dan Hyatt, Fotu Lokotui, Matthew Vaai, Sikeli Nabou, Kieran Read, Viliami Taulani, Liam Daniela, Siaosi Nginingini, Jonathan Taumateine, Latiume Fosita, Luteru Laulala, Nigel Ah Wong, Sam Furniss, Obyn Leger, Cardiff Vaega, Sonny Bill Williams, Kalione Hala, Sione Fifita, Toni Pulu, Sione Molia, Tevita Nabura, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Te Aihe Toma