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Reinvigorated Manawatu ready for 2019

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Back in the green and white is lock Nick Crosswell, who may join the ranks of Manawatu centurions. He starts the season on 93 games, and will have key support in the tight from prop Fraser Armstrong while Sam Stewart will be looking to build on his exposure during the last two seasons. 

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Joining them will be former Brisbane club player Paulo Leleisiuao, a tighthead who spent two seasons in Taranaki, and also Fijian prop Samu Tawake, who has been studying in Christchurch over the last five years. Their involvement should help make up for the absence of Michael Alaalatoa who has opted to remain in Christchurch after his Crusaders campaign.

Bolstering the front row is returning former New Zealand U-20s hooker Nick Grogan. Injury in the last few seasons meant he wasn't able to build on his 24 games for the side, but showed what value he could be in club play this year.

Like Grogan, lock Fraser Stone is back in the side for the first time since 2015. A 64-game veteran Stone will have Tom Hughes back for another season at lock and whether Jackson Hemopo will be available will depend on whether he is wanted for the All Blacks' World Cup squad.

In the loose, blindside flank Liam Mitchell returns while former Samoan and New Zealand U-20s blindside flanker Sione Tuipulotu has moved south from Counties Manukau. He has played for both Tonga and Samoa at the World Under-20 Championship

Competition for the openside flanker's role in the absence of Antonio Kiri Kiri, who is playing in Britain, will feature local player Johnny Galloway, a star turn in club rugby, and another local player Rhys Pedersen, whose earlier selection was denied due to concussion issues.

With Brice Henderson off the scene, Brayden Iose shapes as a No.8 on the rise and should have every chance to push his cause for a permanent starting role.



Another Super Rugby player, halfback Kayne Hammington, has decided to stay in Otago but with Jamie Booth on call Manawatu will still be well served in that position.

After more play in Super Rugby, Otere Black will be a playmaker for the side at first five-eighths with support from Ben Wyness as a back-up.

The retirement of Lifeimi Mafi will leave a hole in midfield experience but Hamish Northcott and Rob Thompson will go a long way towards covering that while Ben Werthmuller is another who will relish opportunities.

Among the outside backs, Andre Taylor, a former Maori All Blacks and NZ Under-20s player, who has been playing in Japan, after earlier playing 33 games each for Manawatu and Taranaki, and 54 games for the Hurricanes will provide some spice.

Wing-fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder is also named while emerging players centre Josiah Maraku and wing Adam Boult offer exciting prospects as players with bright futures for the province.

The squad is: Fraser Armstrong, Sione Asi, Otere Black, Jamie Booth, Adam Boult, Nick Crosswell, Griffin Culver, Johnny Galloway, Nick Grogan, Jackson Hemopo, Tom Hughes, Brayden Iose, Ngani Laumape, Paulo Leleisiuao, Sam Malcolm, Josiah Maraku, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Liam Mitchell, Hamish Northcott, Rhys Pedersen, Fa'alelei Sione, Aaron Smith, Sam Stewart, Fraser Stone, Samuela Tawake, Andre Taylor, Rob Thompson, Sione Tuipulotu, Sunao Takizawa, Te Rangatira Waitokia, Ben Werthmuller, Ben Wyness.

Last year: Sixth in Championship
Head coach: Peter Russell

Notable Gains: Andre Taylor (Munakata Sanix Blues), Samu Tawake (Canterbury), Paulo Leleisiuao (Australia), Sione Tuipulotu (Counties Manukau), Brayden Iose (Injury), Nick Grogan (Injury), Fraser Stone (returning), Josiah Maraku (Feilding High School), Rhys Pedersen (Old Boys-Marist), Johnny Galloway (College Old Boys), Adam Boult (Te Kawau)
Notable Losses: Kayne Hammington (Otago), Michael Alaalatoa (Canterbury), Antonio Kiri Kiri (UK), Lifeimi Mafi (retired), Michael Tagicakibau (Injured), Liam Hallam-Eames (San Diego), Brad Tucker (Seattle), Tim Cadwallader (Hong Kong), Brice Henderson (unavailable), Jade Te Rure