After three weeks of build up, the 2018 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is finally here and the Thames Valley team begins its campaign with a home game against West Coast at Boyd Park, Te Aroha at 2pm.
While Thames Valley had a disappointing end to its 2017 season, West Coast finished 6th courtesy of a round seven 24-17 win over Thames Valley in Greymouth going on to qualify for the play offs before losing against Mid Canterbury in the Lochore Cup Final at Methven.
Coach Matthew Bartleet has named his squad of 22 for the Te Aroha clash and the remainder of the squad will turn out for the Development Team against Auckland Under 85kg at Pakuranga.
Included in the squad for the West Coast game are the three loan players, Christian Kelleher (Hamilton Marist) Harry Lafituanai (Melville) Kieran Lee (Melville) and the Player of Origin, Connor McVerry (Fraser Tech).
Glen McIntyre, Jesse Dodunski and Matty Fisher return to the team following a year or more absence while Te Huia Kutia, Cameron Dromgool, Reece Boughton, Matiu Abraham and Ethan Seymour will all be making their first appearance for Thames Valley in a first class match.
Lance Easton is the most capped player in the current squad with 65 games to his credit while only four other players have played over10 games for Thames Valley.
They are Matt Rolston (14) Connor McVerry (19) Brett Ranga (34) and Ben Bonnar (17) and although he has nine games for Thames Valley to his credit, No.8 Alex Bradley has played over 35 games for Waikato and 6 games for the Chiefs.
The full squad is: T Kutia, G McIntyre, S Tupou, C Dromgool, C McVerry, B Ranga, C Kelleher, A Bradley, B Bonnar, R Boughton, H Lafituanai, S Hill, S McCahon, K Lee, J Dodunski. Reserves: L Matai Povey, L Easton, M Rolston, M Hart, M Abraham, M Fisher, E Seymour.
Kick-off is at 2pm and the referee is Damien MacPherson.
The Development Team begins the defence of its Northern Region Under 85Kg crown with a trip to Bell Park, Pakuranga to play Auckland at 2pm. The team received a timely wake-up call last week following the loss against King Country by two points in a game they should have won comfortably.
Coaches Colin Walker and Mike Bellamy have named the following players for Saturday’s game: J Crawford, M Hill, B Nightingale, R Leopold, B Dromgool, J Downs, J Chaplin, B Ward, S Wise, J Comer, J Meares, C Pipe, T Maamaloa, J Hill, J Allen-Baker. Reserves: F Ainsley, J Hayward, C Roberts, C Bell, J Lonergan, S Murray-Faulkner with one to be added.
The Thames Valley Under 18 team is the main curtain raiser at Boyd Park with a 12.25pm kick off against the Northland Vikings.
This is the first round of the Northern Regions Under 18B competition and will be a stern test for the home side although results show that Thames Valley has done well in matches against the Vikings in the past.
The Under 14s are the first curtain raiser at Boyd Park and they play Matamata College at 11am in their first game since returning from the Heartland Development Camp at Taupo in July.
The Under 16s head to Hinuera for the annual Corinthians match. This is part of their preseason build up before they embark on a tour of the East Coast later in the season.
The Under 45kg team is having a weekend camp at Waitawheta and Waihi this weekend with no game involved while the Roller Mills are having an overnight camp in Paeroa on Saturday and are hosting a quadrangular tournament on Sunday at Paeroa Domain with teams from Counties, Bay of Plenty and Bay of Plenty Development also taking part.
The Under 13 Girls tournament resumes this week with a full round of games to be held at the Sports Park at Whitianga from 6pm on Friday night.