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Five Players to watch: Waikato

Friday, August 10, 2018    allblacks.com    

Some exciting new signings, returning players, and game-breaking All Blacks should go a long way to making that happen. Here’s five players to look out for in 2018.

Fletcher Smith

This is a big acquisition for the Mooloos as they look to blood another brilliant number 10 in Waikato colours. Transferring up from Otago after three solid seasons in the blue and gold which saw him score 287 points, Smith brings a large skill set that has seen him used as both a fullback and first five-eighth at Mitre 10 Cup Level. Coming from the Christchurch Boys High School first five-eighth production factory, the now 23 year-old is at an age where game time is paramount. After identifying the nine and 10 spots as problem areas from last season, signing Smith could prove to be a defining move from the Mooloo management. Look out for this exciting young player to make big strides this season.    

Dwayne Sweeney

Back after an injury-ravaged 2017, Sweeney’s experience in the midfield will be invaluable. With 82 Mooloo games to his name, Sweeney will galvanise the backline at centre and his partnership with Anton Lienert-Brown (when not on All Blacks duty) will be important to the sides chances of success. Sweeney also provides backup on the wing and at fullback but the midfield is likely to be the place where his attacking and defending prowess are on show. As a skilful utility who can also kick goals, Sweeney’s a player to watch as he reaches the latter stages of what has been a solid career.  

Toby Smith

A good season hinges on the boys in the engine room and the hard-running former Chiefs and Rebels prop will be leading the Mooloo front row into battle once again this season. Smith already has 50 appearances for the province. Fresh from 12 matches for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby this year, Smith’s experience is going to be well used up front. The big prop also has international experience with six caps for the Wallabies in what has been a great career. With young players coming into the squad to fill the front row positions, Smith will provide the backbone to the tight five.

Jordan Manihera

Manihera was one of the standouts for Waikato in what was a trying 2017 season. The hard-running loose forward crossed for a number of impressive tries and was one of the most visible players around the park. Defensively sound and destructive with ball in hand, Manihera’s strong Mitre 10 Cup form was rewarded with a call-up the Maori All Blacks last year. The 25-year-old is set to take on a bigger leadership role this year and will be one of the keys to Waikato’s chances of regaining Premiership status.

Damian McKenzie

Although McKenzie is unlikely to be available for much of the competition with international duties, his presence in the squad and on the park will pivotal to the Mooloos success. McKenzie’s expertise at first five-eighth and fullback will be vital for the players stepping into those positions this year. McKenzie’s form has been phenomenal for both the All Blacks and Chiefs this year with his incisive ball-running, accurate passing, and deft kicking. Add to that his deadly accurate goal-kicking and you have nothing but a world class player in the ranks of your provincial team. Excitement abounds for fans and teammates alike.