Above: Old Boys University players and supporters celebrate a try in last year’s Jubilee Cup final. OBU beat Norths 32-19. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures.
Below: The Tawa and Marist St Pat’s squads pack down a scrum in their final pre-season hit-out on Saturday. PHOTO: Barry Stead.
The 2019 club rugby season kicks off this coming Saturday.
As always, there have been a number of comings and goings, players transfers and retirements – which will all be covered as best as possible in our annual Gains and Losses and School Leavers to Watch articles over the next few days.
Below we have chosen one back and one forward from each of the 14 clubs returning this year from previous seasons who we think could be set for big seasons.
It is our understanding that the players below are all returning to their sides in 2019 (barring a couple of early season injuries to at least one highlighted below) and they are listed in alphabetical order by club.
Sefo Aumua (loose forward) –Oppositions knew they were in for a physical game when fronting the Avalon Wolves last season and Sefo Aumua was one of their go-to players in some bruising
exchanges. The Wolves will want him and others around him firing from the outset in the reduced 10-week Swindale Shield competition. Now in his fifth year of Premier rugby, opportunity beckons.
Chris Aumua (outside back) – Scored 13 tries in 18 games in his debut season in Wellington Premier rugby last season and was as good a finisher as anyone and a mystery to some why representative teams didn’t require his services. Look out for the youngest of the Aumua brothers to put on the gas in 2019 and light up Fraser Park Sportsville.
Hutt Old Boys Marist
Jordan Gillies (flanker) – A career best season last year, more busy and tenacious displays in the loose will guarantee the Eagles will remain one of the most competitive forward packs in the competition.
Albert Polu (midfielder) – Joined the Eagles after a short stint in Tasman mid-season in 2018 and scored five tries in his first four games. A blockbusting midfielder or wing, Polu’s power and pace could prove too hot to handle for many opposition teams. Scored 27 tries for the Silverstream First XV in 2017, four fewer than the 31 set by Gavin Foster in 1973.
Anthony Pettett (lock) – Returns to Helston Park after spending an unsuccessful season at Marist St Pat’s where he was only seen for a handful of Premier games towards the back end of the Swindale Shield. The former Hawks captain and local player will want to find his groove again and in turn help Johnsonville find some consistency in 2019.
Jacob Walmsley (outside back) – With its steep bank on one side and close proximity of spectators on the other, Helston Park can be a difficult place for outside backs. With reliable support around him, Walmsley can turn his home field to his advantage and be amongst the leading try scorers and try-assist players this year.
Marist St Pat’s
Joe Walding-Karaitiana (hooker) – Enjoyed a breakout season last year captaining the scarlets and earning a Wellington Lions trial. However the hooker will face stiff competition to retain his place in the starting line-up in 2019 from NZ Schools recruit Tyrone Thompson and possibly Samoan international Valentine Meachen who is reportedly set to return to Evans Bay Park.
Isaiah Petelo (midfield back) – when he is on-song, which is often, he can seemingly break the line at will, with his vision and hot-stepping. But it’s his role on defence that could prove most valuable for MSP this year. MSP could only win 9 from 19 last year, and leaked far too many points by their high standards.
Mike Ioapo (prop) – Was at the forefront of an in-your-face Northern United forward pack throughout 2018, helping his side win the Swindale Shield and make the Jubilee Cup final. A crowd favourite at Porirua Park and a good team man.
Losi Filipo (utility back)– A massive loss for Petone, the Lions wing will probably play in the midfield for Norths where alongside the likes of Kienan Higgins and Denny To’o he is liable to wreak havoc.
Old Boys University
Sam Coventry (flanker) – Spent a month of the summer in New York with his design talents. Coventry is an underrated weapon on the flanks for the Billygoats. With the speed of a sevens player, Coventry can be as potent as any of OBU’s excellent loose forwards. Injuries have been an issue.
Callum Harkin (inside back) – Won’t be sighted until the second round after breaking his ankle for the Hurricanes in their season opener in Levin early February. The Wellington Axemen halfback and latterly first five-eighth has transferred to the student quarters where he could return for the Jubilee Cup and make a difference at the right time.
Malachai Unasa (outside back) – Will be starting his fourth season at the Polo Ground next week, and has a chance to step up and lead his side’s outside backs division that also includes NZ U20s trialist Reuben Va’a. Unasa has pace and smarts and is at home on either wing or at centre.
Luke Tau’alupe (loose forward) – 2018 was his fourth season in Premier rugby and his best yet. Mostly injury free and a series of strong games at blindside flanker, his presence was a big factor in Ories making the Jubilee Cup semi-finals yet again. Carried his strong form into the representative season that followed.
Junior Davey (prop) – Stepped up last year after the season-ending injury to veteran Danny Herewini to anchor the scrum. The young tighthead will be counted on to do that again this year and with John Schwalger to mentor him, could press for further honours.
Justin Wilson (first-five/fullback) – has followed his father to Ngati Toa where he’s likely to assume the kicking duties. Versatile enough that he may yet move to halfback, he plays with a level of heart that belies his diminutive stature and always willing to have a go with ball in hand
Adam Simpson (fullback) – Cracked the Wellington Sevens team with his strong performances from fullback last year. Petone’s leading try scorer in 2018 will be relied upon to create attacking spark for the Villagers.
Kaliopasi Uluilikepa (prop) – Arguably the hardest player to bring down in Wellington club rugby the big prop makes the most of his size and strength, especially when he can sniff the goal-line. With national U20 and provincial rep honours on his resume he’ll be looking for more in 2019.
Pakai Turia (first five-eighth) – Mesmerising at his best, more strong performances from Turia could see Poneke push for a Jubilee Cup semi-final and will certainly keep the Lions selectors interested in the first-five. Will keep the electronic scoreboard at Kilbirnie Park ticking over too.
Cole Stewart (lock) – The converted midfielder has well and truly made a successful transition to the forwards, where his unwavering commitment and leadership is his go-to style. Another big season in red and black coming up – upon his return in a few weeks from paternity leave! One of the shorter locks in the competition but one of the most reliable. Debut in 2011 so plenty of experience.
Pepeasna Patafilo (Centre) Back at Lyndhurst after a stint with Waikato NPC Cup team looking fit and fast in pre-season and likely to be a prominent player for the Tawa team. Patafilo’s strength and speed at this level makes him a dangerous player to contain, following in the footsteps of other Tawa backs in recent years such as Willie Lafaele, Junior Togia and Shaun Treeby.
James Coburn (Prop) – Highly regarded front rower, the Mountain Man has now become a fireman and will be the cornerstone of the Tawa pack in 2019. The former Tawa College player returns to his home club for his ninth season of Premier rugby and is one of the most experienced bookends in the competition.
Upper Hutt Rams
Josh Houston-Tupou (hooker/No.8) – The hooker has continually impressed with his energetic bustle and speed around the field, and with another strong season for the Rams must surely figure in rep selectors eyes.
Hayden Schrijvers (halfback) – His season ended before it began last year, tearing his ACL at the Mount 7’s in January. His industry and energy, not to mention his leadership qualities, were missed by the Rams and fully fit he could be the spark to send the side back to the Jubilee Cup
Mike Lealava’a (midfielder) – Passed 100 Premier games last year and really flourished for Wairarapa Bush in the Heartland championship. There’s plenty of life left in this old warhorse and the green and blacks will need his experience more than ever this season.
Bevan Clark (lock) – another of the veteran contingent, the lock is an honest, hardworking toiler in the Wainui pack. His sides’ safest lineout option, he’s not afraid to roll the sleeves up on defence and as a ball carrier.
Henry Hocking (outside back) – Lack of forwards power was the Wellington Axemen’s Achilles heel last year. When they got good ball or the game opened up, their backs were a positive attacking unit. They have lost Olly Sapsford to Hawke’s Bay, but Hocking remains in the mix and is an exciting counterattacking player. Usually a fullback but can cover wing or flyhalf if needed.
Sam Gard’ner (loose forward) Back from a year away from the Axemen and a player the team would have wanted in a couple of close losses last year in both the Swindale Shield and Hardham Cups. Proven workhorse off the back of the scrum and a player for the Axemen value to boost them going into their 150th season in 2020.
Round One draws and results HERE