Every year new talent emerges on this domestic platform, before accelerating onto higher honours quickly.
That is the beauty of the Mitre 10 Cup, where careers can be launched to the pinnacle of the sport. After one season with Canterbury in 2016, Jordie Barrett was playing for the All Blacks the following year. Last year’s sensation, Asafo Aumua was catapulted into the All Blacks before he’d even played Super Rugby.
With New Zealand’s domestic competition kicking off this week, here are some of the top young talents to watch in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup that are destined for higher honours.
Quinn Tupaea – Waikato – Second-five
Tupaea was named in Waikato’s squad and could assume a starting role in a resurgent Waikato team. The Hamilton Boys High School product was the New Zealand schoolboys captain last year and was called over to France as cover for the New Zealand under-20s during the Junior World Cup campaign.
The midfielder possesses upper body strength and fleet-footed agility, making him a powerful carrying option that can find space and the gain line. Even at such a young age, Tupaea has the potential breakthrough the Mitre 10 Cup and push for a Chiefs squad spot next year with the departure of Charlie Ngatai.
Ngane Punivai – Canterbury – Centre/Wing
Punivai is two years removed from playing at Christs College in Christchurch where he was a standout alongside his younger brother Isaiah in the backs. He played fullback for the New Zealand schoolboys in 2016 and has been involved with the New Zealand under-20s.
The Crusaders have nurtured the local product through their academy, and he now is ready for his debut provincial season with Canterbury. Head coach Joe Maddock gave an indication that he expects Punivai to get plenty of game time on the wing this season.
“At just 19, Ngane has come through the schools’ and academy system and while he’s a natural centre, we believe he also has plenty of potential to be a powerful winger for us this year,” Maddock said.
Will Jordan – Tasman – Fullback
The Christchurch Boys High fullback had a breakout Mitre 10 Cup campaign in 2017 with Tasman last year, after returning from the World under-20 championships with New Zealand.
Jordan was a star for the Makos, showing an unbelievable ability to shed tackles and break open a game.
He was signed to the Crusaders Super Rugby squad for 2018 but wasn’t able to see any game time this year. He will be fizzing to get back on the field and with the arrival of Chiefs star Solomon Alaimalo, the Makos will have an electrifying back three with the Fainganuuku brothers that will be one of the best in the competition.
Ere Enari – Canterbury – Halfback
The nephew of All Blacks Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke has been a highly touted prospect for a while, but hasn’t yet had the chance to shine. He made nine appearances for Canterbury in 2016, but wasn’t to be seen last year as he dealt with a broken leg.
The 21-year-old also spent time with the New Zealand under-20’s squad under Scott Robertson, but was unable to see playing time. A former St Kentigern pupil, Enari could finally breakout in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup with another halfback Jack Stratton leaving.
Mitch Drummond will likely start for the defending champions, but Enari could see more time off the bench and deputise for Drummond should they rest him.
Leicester Faingaanuku– Tasman – Wing
The younger of the Faingaanuku brothers, Leicester, signed his first full-time professional contract while still at school at Nelson College. The winger was in the Tasman academy at such a young age, and has been fast-tracked due to the talent he possessed.
With NRL teams lurking, the Makos put a plan in place to proactively keep their young local star. The hulking left wing is a similar mould to Julian Savea, with power running and finishing among his strongest traits. He played for the New Zealand schoolboys last year and will be an intriguing prospect to watch in his first season of Mitre 10 Cup.
Jacobson has been an age grade representative since his schoolboy days, going on to captain the New Zealand under-20’s to a title last year at the World Rugby under-20 championships.
The 21-year-old was able to debut in Super Rugby this year following a serious injury toll that struck the Chiefs, playing in 13 games. Heading into his second Mitre 10 Cup campaign, Jacobson looks placed to have a great season after gaining Super Rugby experience.
The young loose forward will also benefit from the tutelage of new head coach and former loosie Jono Gibbes.
Devan Flanders – Hawkes Bay
The Hawkes Bay have a large contingent of young stars, bolstered by Hastings Boys High School who have set the standard of 1st XV rugby in the last two seasons.
One of those players is Number 8 Devan Flanders, who was the youngest player in the New Zealand under-20’s this year. A former 100-metre sprint champ, Flanders is an athletic Number 8 that provides a lineout option at set piece. He is dangerous with ball in hand, capable of making tough carries in tight or featuring out wide.
After a World Rugby under-20 championship campaign, Flanders is ready for a debut Mitre 10 Cup season just one year after finishing school.
Etene Nanai-Seturo – Counties
A prodigious talent, 18-year-old Etene Nanai-Seturo will likely be an immediate star should he debut for Counties this season.
One of the best athletic talents seen in a generation, the young fullback could embarrass a few elder statesmen should he get on the field.
His first year of professional rugby has seen him fly around the globe on the World Sevens circuit with New Zealand. He was ruled out of the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco but could feature for Counties after being named in their squad last week.
These are just a handful of the young, intriguing prospects who will be fast-risers in the New Zealand system.