SEASON PREVIEW: Bunnings NPC (2022)

Season Preview

Teams have been placed into two pools made up of teams with seedings based on the previous season’s standings. Odd numbered teams will be in one pool and even number teams will be in the other, with four crossover matches.

 

The opening game of the season kicks off on Friday 5 August, with Manawatū hosting Canterbury in Palmerston North.

 

NORTHLAND

 

The Taniwha only recorded the one win in a disrupted 2021 season, but it was over eventual Premiership winners’ Waikato. They’ve named a strong squad this year, with Tom Robinson at the helm as skipper. 35 year-old Rene Ranger returns for his 13th season with Northland, having made his debut back in 2006. We’re excited by the likes of Rivez Reihana and Sevens playmaker Brady Rush.

 

Player to watch: Josh Moorby became a revelation for the Hurricanes this year, scoring nine tries in 10 games. The 24 year-old fullback has made the move up north from Southland, having made his Māori All Blacks debut last month. Moorby attended Hamilton Boys’ High School, before making his NPC debut with the Stags in 2019.

 

Ins: Jarred Adams, Chris Apoua, Trent Hope, Bruce Kauika-Petersen, Matt Matich, Jaycob Matiu, Lisati Milo-Harris, Josh Moorby, Matt Moulds, Heremaia Murray, Conan O’Donnell, Sila Puafisi, Ofa Tuungafasi

 

Outs: Setefano Funaki, Scott Gregory, Jordan Hyland, Luatangi Li, Isi Manu, Raikabula Momoedonu, Jordan Olsen, Kara Pryor, Renata Roberts-Tenana, Leka Tuungafasi, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa

 

 

NORTH HARBOUR

 

Obviously last season was a tough one for North Harbour, along with Auckland and Counties Manukau who had their campaigns cut after just a couple of rounds because of lockdowns. They’ll be raring to go in 2022. Led by pivot Bryn Gatland, Harbour welcome in Hurricanes prop Alex Fidow from Wellington. Fidow played almost 50 times for the Lions and will link up with the likes of Sione Mafileo and Luteru Tolai in the front row. Their backline is exciting as per, with Shaun Stevenson, Mark Telea and Tevita Li all in the mix. Li returns to Harbour after a stint in Japan. They have farewelled stalwart Bryn Hall, but welcome Jamie Booth from Manawatū.

 

Player to watch: Mark Telea is back in Harbour colours, after a couple of seasons playing for the Tasman Mako. He made his provincial debut for North Harbour in 2016. The winger has had a solid run of form for the Blues in Super Rugby and even got called into the All Blacks squad as injury cover during the recent Irish series. Hailing from West Auckland, the 25 year-old rose to prominence out of the Massey Rugby Club. 

 

Ins: Jamie Booth, Mike Curry, Danny Drake, Alex Fidow, Tevita Li, Ray Niuia, Denny Solomona, Mark Telea

 

Outs: Xavier Cowley-Tuioti, Bryn Hall, James Little, Sione Mafileo, Rhys Marshall, Teague McElroy, Jacob Pierce, Jimmy Roots, Murphy Taramai, Senio Toleafoa

 

 

AUCKLAND

 

Auckland will be itching to get their campaign underway against North Harbour at Eden Park this weekend, having missed the majority of last year due to Covid restrictions. The blue and white hoops will be led again by first five-eighth Harry Plummer, who returns from a shoulder injury, having missed a large chunk of the Super Rugby Pacific season with the Blues. Alama Ieremia has a healthy mix of youth and experience in his 2022 squad. Exciting All Blacks Sevens playmakers Che Clarke and Caleb Tangitau are alongside the likes of Jock McKenzie and Corey Evans. Bryce Heem is back for another season of NPC action, while former player Jono Hickey joins the coaching team. He’ll take on the attack coaching role, coaching his brother Simon, who’s been named in the squad.

 

Player to watch: Jock McKenzie’s another talented player out of Westlake Boys’ High School. He’s represented New Zealand in both rugby and cricket and make his Super Rugby debut for the Blues earlier this year. He’s been likened to Jeff Wilson for his skills in both codes and Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he’s a natural leader and we’re looking forward to seeing how the 20 year-old goes in a full Bunnings NPC season, where he’s looking to make his debut.

 

Ins: Robbie Abel, Simon Hickey, Felix Kapapu, Terrell Peita, Jackson Pugh, Tanielu Tele’a, Jordan Trainor, Connor Vest

 

Outs: Jonathan Ruru, Scott Scrafton, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Solomone Kata, Heremaia Murray, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi

 

 

COUNTIES MANUKAU

 

New coach Reon Graham has named a Steelers squad of primarily local talent. Every player named in the squad is either currently playing club rugby in the local competition or began their professional careers in the region before heading offshore. Moana Pasifika captain Sekope Kepu will lead the side, with the Steelers welcoming back a cult hero in Ahsee Tuala, who has been plying his trade in the English Premiership with the Northampton Saints.

 

Player to watch: Samuel Slade is fresh off his first Super Rugby season with Moana Pasifika full of confidence. The 24 year-old made nine appearances in the competition this season, with an 85% tackle success rate. He’s one of the more experienced locks in the Counties side and he’ll be linking up with his Moana Pasifika teammate, Alex McRobbie in the second row.

 

Ins: AJ Alatimu, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Sean Reidy, Ahsee Tuala

 

Outs: Nili Latu, Luteru Laulala, Orbyn Leger, Matiaha Martin, Viliami Taulani, Tanielu Tele’a, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Kalolo Tuiloma

 

 

WAIKATO

 

Premiership champions Waikato have retained the majority of their squad for the 2022 season, with 35 of the 38 players returning. Three players are in line to make their Waikato debuts – inside back Taha Kemara, prop Solomone Tukuafu and Samoan utility back Alapati Leuia, who returns to New Zealand after eight seasons playing in the UK. Ayden Johnstone resumes the co-captaincy role, but will this year be joined by Mitch Jacobson this season. The legendary Liam Messam returns in 2022 on 99 caps for the province.

 

Player to watch: Bailyn Sullivan had a breakout season in 2021. He helped Waikato to their Premiership title and continued his exciting form into the Super Rugby Pacific campaign this year with the Hurricanes. The 23 year-old midfielder is building nicely and had a solid couple of performances for the Māori All Blacks in their recent series draw with Ireland.

 

Ins: Alapati Leiua

 

Outs: Rupeni Tamani, Tom Martin, Louis Rogers, Fletcher Smith, Gideon Wrampling

 

 

BAY OF PLENTY

 

The Steamers will be looking to right some wrongs from last season, hampered by injuries, Bay of Plenty finished at the bottom of the Premiership ladder in 2021, winning just three from eight games. Impressive Blues hooker Kurt Eklund has been named as captain. Mike Delany’s squad features 15 players who have been developed through the Bay of Plenty Athlete Development Programme. The likes of Lucas Cashmore, Nikora Broughton and Benet Kumeroa have come through that programme. Returning players of note are new All Blacks prop Aidan Ross, Kaleb Trask, Manaaki Selby-Rickit and Emoni Narawa.

 

Player to watch: Justin Sangster. At 1.98m he’s hard to miss. He had a breakout season last year, so good in fact that he was approached and signed by the Hurricanes after playing just three games for the Steamers. He featured nine times for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Pacific and will come into the Bunnings NPC campaign full of confidence.

 

Ins: Nigel Ah Wong, Gillies Kaka, Anaru Rangi, Jacob Norris, Luke Donaldson, Jamie Dobie, Joey Walton, Roderick Solo, Taylor Haugh, Wharenui Hawera & Zane Kapeli

 

Outs: Otere Black, Chase Tiatia, Luke Campbell, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Nathan Harris, Stan van den Hoven & Mitch Karpik

 

 

TARANAKI

Last year’s Championship winners have retained 28 players from their squad that went unbeaten in 2021. They’ve also contracted 10 new players – Mitch O’Neill, Stan van den Hoven, Nathaniel Peters, Michael Loft, Scott Jury, Hemopo Cunningham, Josh Jacomb, Josh Setu, Matt McKenzie and Crusaders Faletagoa’i. Neil Barnes coaches the side again this year with their season-opener to take place at the iconic Pukekura Park on August 7 against Northland.

 

Player to watch: Stan van den Hoven. He’s a 2 metre lock from the Netherlands and comes into the Bulls setup from Bay of Plenty. He has previously worked under Barnes at the Chiefs. The Dutch giant moved to New Zealand in 2017, linking up with Bay of Plenty and eventually making his NPC debut in 2019. He also plays for the New England Free Jacks in the American Major League competition.

 

Ins: Stan van den Hoven

 

Outs: Reuben O’Neill

 

 

HAWKE'S BAY

 

Ranfurly Shield holders, the Magpies have also retained the majority of their 2021 squad. Of course, they are now without their legendary skipper Ash Dixon, who is now plying his trade in Japan. They have some key playmakers in Jacob Devery, Namatahi Waa and Gareth Evans who have been named, but will miss the season through injury. The exciting Chase Tiatia joins the Magpies from Bay of Plenty, while they’ll also have the invaluable services of Māori All Blacks halfback Brad Weber leading the backline. Tom Parsons will once again captain Hawke’s Bay. Their first Ranfurly Shield defence of the season proper is against Counties Manukau on Friday 12 August from McLean Park.

 

Player to watch: After a season battling injury, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u showed some serious form at the back end of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign with the Highlanders. He’s certainly been on the All Blacks radar and a solid Bunnings NPC season will go a long way towards his chances in the near future.

 

Ins: Chase Tiatia, Nick Grigg, Sam Smith, Harry Godfrey, Mark Braidwood, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Tyrone Thompson

 

Outs: Ash Dixon, Tiaan Falcon, Brendon O’Connor, Geoff Cridge, Jacob Devery

 

 

MANAWATŪ

 

The Turbos will be looking to build on a solid 2021 campaign. They turned their fortunes around, having won just one game the previous season. They made it all the way to a home Championship semifinal last year, eventually losing to Otago. Manawatū will be without stalwart halfback Jamie Booth who has joined North Harbour, but they welcome back talented first five-eighth Brett Cameron from Japan.

 

Player to watch: Born and bred in the Manawatū, Brayden Iose is homegrown talent. Out of Palmerston North Boys’ High School, he captained the New Zealand Secondary Schools side before signing with the Turbos. The 1.88m loosie made his Hurricanes debut against the Chiefs in 2020. He had limited game time this season for the Hurricanes, making just six appearances, but keep in mind he sits behind Ardie Savea. Iose is quick, elusive and only 23. He’s one to watch this season.

 

Ins: Luke Campbell, Kegan Christian-Goss, Sam Clarke, Potu Leavasa Junior, Slade McDowall, Sean Paranihi, Louis Rogers, Leif Schwencke

 

Outs: Jarred Adams, Jamie Booth, Griffin Culver, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Josiah Maraku, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Liam Mitchell, Ray Niuia, James Tofa, Tietie Tuimauga

 

 

WELLINGTON

 

Wellington have signed a number of new and exciting young players for the 2022 season. Loose forward Sione Halalilo joins talented New Zealand Under 20s midfielder Riley Higgins who will be looking to make their debut this year. Pepesana Patafilo and Dom Bird return from injury for the Lions this season, while they will also have the services of former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder who joins after winning the Major League Rugby trophy with Rugby United New York. The squad features eight players who have played for the All Blacks and 22 current or former Super Rugby players. Wellington had three wins and five losses last year, so will be looking for a much improved campaign in 2022. Leo Crowley is in his third season at the helm of the Lions.

 

Player to watch: Riley Higgins is widely regarded in New Zealand rugby circles, having impressed for the New Zealand Under 20s. The 19 year-old midfielder made his Hurricanes debut against Fijian Drua in Super Rugby Pacific this year and he’ll be an exciting addition to the Lions’ midfield stocks alongside Billy Proctor and Peter Umaga-Jensen.   

 

Ins: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Tietie Tuimauga

 

Outs: Tyrone Thompson, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Tomasi Alosio, Fraser Armstrong, Vince Aso, Pek Cowan, Alex Fidow, Wes Goosen, Bruce Kauika-Petersen, Sam Smith

 

 

TASMAN

 

Runners’ up in the Premiership, wouldn’t have sat well with Tasman throughout the off-season. It was an uncharacteristic performance from the Mako in the final against Waikato, so they’ll be after redemption this season. Their coaching set-up has changed, with former assistant coaches Gray Cornelius and Dan Perrin taking over from Andrew Goodman as head coaches. They’ve retained key players like Anton Segner, Mitch Hunt, Alex Nankivell and Quinten Strange. But they’ve signed some exciting New Zealand Under 20s playmakers in Noah Hotham and Macca Springer.

 

Player to watch: The brother of Black Ferns Sevens player Jazmin Hotham, Noah, also represented his country this year, lining up for the New Zealand Under 20s at the Oceania tournament on the Sunshine Coast last month. He was a development player for the Mako last year but has signed a full contract in 2022. The talented halfback signed a three year deal with the Crusaders, starting next season.

 

Ins: Tomasi Alosio

 

Outs: Ethan Blackadder, Andrew Knewstubb, Jacob Norris, Mark Telea, Tom Marshall, Tim O’Malley, Taina Fox-Matamua, Isileli Tuungafasi, Regan Ware, Pari Pari Parkinson

 

 

CANTERBURY

 

There’s a strong New Zealand Under 20s influence in the Canterbury squad for this season as well, with Canterbury signing hooker George Bell, prop Seb Calder and halfback Joel Lam. They’ve also got a new coach at the helm in Marty Bourke, as well as former All Black Matt Todd who’s tasked with looking after the defence and breakdown. 2019 England World Cup squad member Willi Heinz returns to Canterbury for the first time since 2014 and they’ll also have the services of George Bridge for the season, after he missed All Blacks selection.

 

Player to watch: There are plenty of people singing the praises of hooker George Bell, saying he could go all the way. He captained the New Zealand Under 20s to victory at the Oceania tournament in July and made his Crusaders debut earlier this year off the bench against the Western Force. He should get a decent amount of game time with Codie Taylor on All Blacks duty. He’ll share the load with fellow hookers Brodie McAlister and Shilo Klein.

 

Ins: Willi Heinz, Tom Christie, Mitch Dunshea

 

Outs: Jack Debreczeni, Sam Dickson, Luke Donaldson, Jono Kitto, Josh McKay, Waisake Naholo, Sam Stewart, Henry Stowers

 

 

OTAGO

 

Otago were runners’ up in the Championship last year, losing to the unbeaten Taranaki Bulls in the final. Coach Tom Donnelly has maintained the majority of his squad which is a big boost. He’ll be stoked to have the likes of Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Jona Nareki back from injury this season. Josh Dickson will be riding high on confidence after being called into the All Blacks for the South African leg of the Rugby Championship.

 

Player to watch: Lock Fabian Holland was in Donnelly’s New Zealand Under 20 side this year and is an exciting young player. The Dutchman is 2.04m and highly skilled and he’s quite agile for a tall player. Earlier this year he signed a three year contract with the Highlanders.

 

Ins: Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Rupeni Tamani

 

Outs: Liam Coltman, Matt Faddes, Kayne Hammington, Michael Manson, Slade McDowall, Dylan Nel, Sio Tomkinson

 

 

SOUTHLAND

 

The Stags team for the 2022 season is headlined by the return of cult hero, Robbie Robinson. The 32 year-old has been playing in Japan where he has been for the best part of a decade. Southland fans will be over the moon to see him back, alongside fellow stalwart Josh Bekhuis who also returns from Japan. Their new recruits include Northland’s Scott Gregory, Michael Manson from Otago, and Jack Taylor. The 37-strong squad includes seventeen players who attended secondary school in Southland, as well as over 30 players who have come out of the local club competition.

 

Player to watch: Solomon Alaimalo will make his return to rugby with the Stags, following some time off managing his mental health, and we’re excited to see him back. The talented winger played for the Chiefs before joining the Highlanders in 2021. Alaimalo links up with his brother, Charles in the Stags squad.

 

Ins: Robbie Robinson, Josh Bekhuis, Morgan Mitchell, Scott Gregory, Michael Manson, Jahvis Wallace

 

Outs: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Chris Apoua, Tony Lamborne, Mike McKee, Marty McKenzie, Lisati Milo-Harris, Sione Misiloi, Josh Moorby, Amanaki Nicole