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Waikato ready for step up to Premiership

Tuesday, August 6, 2019    allblacks.com    

Andrew Strawbridge was a stalwart of Waikato rugby in the 1990s and takes the coaching reigns from Jono Gibbes, who departed for French club La Rochelle after guiding the Mooloos to the Championship crown in 2018.

Strawbridge has named a new-look Waikato side with 17 new players named for the Mooloos return to the Premiership, including four players from the New Zealand Under 20s.

First five-eighth Rivez Reihana, prop Ollie Norris and loose forwards Simon Parker and Samipeni Finau all featured at the World Rugby Under 20 Championships in Argentina earlier this year and will be looking to make a strong impression in their first season with Waikato. 

The loss of hard running No.8 Jordan Manihera was a big blow to Waikato, but in Taleni Seu they have found an able replacement as long as he can overcome a shoulder injury suffered late in the Super Rugby season.  

Solomon Alaimalo returns from one season with the Tasman Mako to give Waikato genuine firepower out wide. He will be complimented in the backline by the impressive and versatile young trio of Matt Landsdown, Quin Tupaea and Fletcher Smith. 
All Blacks Luke Jacobsen, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie and Sevu Reece have also been named in the squad. Their involvement will hinge on selection in the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad, and, in McKenzie’s case, return from long term injury.

Upfront, Waikato have plenty of grunt with Josh Iosefa-Scott, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Toby Smith and Haereiti Hetet all noted for their solid work at set piece time and power in the tight exchanges.

Veteran Dwayne Sweeny is back to captain the side and is poised to bring up 100 caps during the season. 

Coach Andrew Strawbridge said he is confident that his side can make the step up to the Premiership. 
“We know the new players that have been selected and the current group in the squad are hardworking men and are always looking to grow their game,” Strawbridge said.

Waikato kick off their Premiership campaign with a blockbuster match-up against Canterbury at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday at 7.35pm.

Squad:

Forwards
TIM BOND, JAHROME BROWN, HAMILTON BURR, SAM COOPER, SAMIPENI FINAU, HAEREITI HETET, JOSH IOSEFA-SCOTT, MURRAY ITI, LUKE JACOBSON, MITCH JACOBSON, AYDEN JOHNSTONE, SOSEFO KAUTAI, SEKOPE LOPETI-MOLI, LAGHLAN MCWHANNELL, OLLIE NORRIS, API NAIKATINI, SIMON PARKER, TALENI SEU, ANTONIO SHALFOON, TOBY SMITH, SAMISONI TAUKEI’AHO, JAMES THOMPSON, JAMES TUCKER, MANAWA VEITAYAKI 

Backs
SOLOMON ALAIMALO, TYLER CAMPBELL, MATTY LANSDOWN, ANTON LIENERT-BROWN, DAMIAN MCKENZIE, BRANDON MUDZEKENYEDZI, DECLAN O’DONNELL, CARLOS PRICE, RIVEZ REIHANA, SEVU REECE, LOUIS ROGERS, FLETCHER SMITH, JACK STRATTON, BAILYN SULLIVAN, DWAYNE SWEENEY, RANIERA TAKARANGI, NEWTON TUDREU, QUINN TUPAEA, VALYNCE TE WHARE-CROSBY 

Last year: Championship winner (promoted to Premiership)
Coach: Andrew Strawbridge
Gains: Solomon Alaimalo, Hamilton Burr, Sam Cooper, Samipeni Finau, Brandon Mudzekenyedzi, Api Naikatini, Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Carlos Price, Rivez Reihana, Louis Rogers, Taleni Seu, Antonio Shalfoon, James Thompson, Valynce Te Whare-Crosby, Newton Tudreu, Manawa Veitayaki

Losses: Jono Armstrong, Jordan Bunce, Sam Caird, Mosese Dawai, Niven Longapoa, Jordan Manihera, Mike Mayhew, Atu Moli, Kylem O’Donnell, Pepesana Patafilo