One thing I can declare after watching 90% of the Mitre 10 Cup rugby for 2018; New Zealand is blessed with a depth of rugby talent. The skills are a delight to watch and no longer do Kiwis have to fear that we can’t match other nations in physical dimensions. There are some whoppers coming through!
Time to sift through almost 500 players who made appearances to come up with 23 that could play an invitational game. We had many All Blacks come and visit for game time like Ngai Laumape so qualification is four games.
Let’s start with the backs.
15. First position to pick and perhaps the toughest. Mention Will Jordan, George Bridge and Wes Goosen and you’d have Shaun Stevenson and Chase Tiatia fans up in arms! Up until the semi-final I think Will Jordan was in the box seat but he did himself no favours in the semi-final loss to Canterbury.
However his form was irrepressible for the regular season, 9 tries and some great counter-attacking so he gets my pick.
14. While fullbacks and left wings shone, the right wing position is more problematic. Melani Nanai showed flashes of brilliance, Jonah Lowe was elusive and combative and no-one will forget Matt Duffie’s amazing aerial effort against Tasman….
I’m going to do a Ben Smith and stick George Bridge in there.
13. Matt Proctor was rewarded with a trip to Japan, Brayden Ennor was one of the stars of the U20 World Championship last year and after a Super season with few chances he got some quality time with Canterbury in the Mitre 10.
They would be quality picks but I’m going to go with Quinn Tupaea from Waikato. He just turned 19 earlier this month and shows an incredible maturity in his play and positioning. He has that canny knack to crack rush defences, his defence and distribution is top-notch.
Can’t wait to see him next year at the U20 global tournament.
12. No argument here, TJ Faiane all the way. He was magnificent in the final against Canterbury as a leader, his quick tap that set up Tumua Manu’s try and moments later the crushing defence that lifted his team and made them believe.
There’re no frills; straight hard running, uncompromising D and a man players will follow. David Havili for injury cover.
11. We scratched for right wings, there’s a buffet of number 11s! Sevu Reece, Tevita Li, Sales Rayasi and Jona Nareki stood out, Solomon Alaimalo and Ben Lam struggled to reach their Super form but are quality players.
Sevu Reece with 14 tries and his top numbers for offloads gets the nod.
10. Interesting mix of experience and youth here. No one had more miles on the clock than Mike Delany and you could hear the wheels come off the Bay of Plenty campaign when he exited the field against North Harbour in Week 5. The two ex-Melbourne Rebels Jack Debreczeni and Jackson Garden-Bachop had their moments too.
Then there were the new boys; Harry Plummer and Brett Cameron. Plummer won the battle of the first fives in general play in the final but he has struggled for consistency from the kicking tee, at just over 50% success rate. Cameron gets the nod.
9. Richard Judd and Finlay Christie featured well in the Duane Monkey medal points, Brad Weber was waving a black and white flag to the AB selectors and of course Mitchell Drummond and Bryn Hall were selected for the end of year tour.
I am a big fan of Bryn Hall’s composure and game management so I’d pump for him.
Now let’s get some grunt up front!
8. Auckland’s winning effort in the final perfectly framed the enigmatic Akira Ioane. After an imperious semi-final performance perhaps he’d turned the corner? Nah!
Strolls on to the field pre kick off, goes missing as Canterbury start squeezing the life out of Auckland and caps off the negatives with a yellow card and penalty try after 30 minutes to see out the first half on the naughty chair.
Then bang! The remaining hour of play he shows why he is a player who COULD be best in the world. He beats out Gareth Evans in my team just for the x-factor. Special mentions to Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Dylan Nel as well.
7 and 6. Dalton Papalii makes my team and there were two other outstanding flankers, Dillon Hunt and Vaea Fifita. Depending on who you select out of them dictates the surprise All Black’s spot. With Akira at 8 let’s go for workmate on the flanks; Dillon Hunt at 7 and Dalton Papalii at 6. Fifita off the bench to make yards and be bruising. Talking about work rate, busy beaver awards to Evan Olmstead and Ethan Blackadder.
5. Luke Romano is awesome. Pure power at tighthead lock, ball runner, big hitter and lifter/jumper.
4. When looking for a complement for the power of Romano, an aerial expert would seem to be the way to go. I like Ben Nee Nee’s athleticism but looking through the stats Pari Pari Parkinson and Josh Dickson won the most line outs and Parkinson was up there for
steals so he gets the start.
3. Angus Ta’avao set the pace and was off to All Black camp after three games. Tyrel Lomax has shown he has the goods and will slot in at tight head.
2. The surprise package was Auckland’s Robbie Abel who would seem to have a lot to offer to a Super franchise. Hooker is also a place where leaders are common and James Parsons, Joe Royal, Ash Dixon and Ricky Riccitelli all showed maturity and authority. The force came from Waikato’s Samasoni Taukei’aho with 9 tries and Andrew Makalio from Tasman and of course the star in the making Asafo Aumua from Wellington continued his development. We’re spoilt for choice but let’s go for Aumua.
1. There’s a good reason why the AB selectors have pitched Taranaki’s Reuben O’Neill into the fray. He is good! Alex Hodgeman anchored the Canterbury machine and the wily Wyatt Crockett enjoyed his time as first-class player and TV pundit!
My pick is Aki Seiuli who got Otago’s season back on track with his solid scrummaging and dynamic running game, then got cut down with a nasty knee injury. Just managed to qualifying 4 games to make the cut.
16. With Aumua starting let’s get the old war horse James Parsons on the bench. After his conversion in his 100th match he’ll be up for providing some kicking back up off the tee!
17. Reuben O’Neill is the man to force the issue off the bench.
18. Jeff Toomaga-Allen has been round the clock and will do the job. Oh how we missed his Wellington team mate Alex Fidow this season!
19. One of the unsung heroes for Auckland was Fa’atiga Lemalu. What a workrate! Brad Tucker could also do this job.
20. We’ve already given this role to Vaea Fafita. Evan Olmstead wouldn’t be a bad pick either!
21. Brad Weber for his energy and sniping ability off the bench.
22. Harry Plummer but we’d be doing some place kicking practise!
23. Wes Goosen. He ran for over 1000 metres this year and can play most positions on the outside.
Who did I miss? There’s been so much rugby played and everyone has their favourite players.
Who would you put in your backline? Give your opinion below.
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