THERE will be six premier grade teams in contention for the Galbraith Shield when the Southland club rugby season kicks off on Saturday.
Rugby Southland had to continually revise the competition structures through autumn as the Covid-19 situation played out. The 10-game round-robin competition formulated for the premier grade includes two midweek games with a straight final to be played on August 15.
The division one competition has six teams vying for the Ack Soper Shield and another six teams in a separate battle for the Gerald Dermody Shield.
In division two, the CJ Soper Trophy is the prize for another six teams, and the Life Members Trophy for the next six teams.
The presidents grade has 11 teams and is split into two groups.
The women’s competition will be played on a Sunday; the four clubs involved this year are Pioneer, Blues, Albion and defending champion Marist.
Reigning Galbraith Shield champion Blues has a host of promising players joining the club fresh out of Southland Boys’ High School but has also suffered some major losses from last year.
Shoulder surgery for halfback Jay Renton and knee surgery for flanker Ben Paulin has ruled them out. Fellow Stags loose forwards Taine Te Whata and Bill Fukufuku have also left Balmoral this year and prop Ethan De Groot is with the Highlanders.
Last year’s beaten finalist Star has a similar team to last year but has strengthened its backline with two backs from the North Island, who have joined the Southland Academy.
No 8 Jordan Stewart will have a heavy workload this season without Highlanders lock Manaaki Selby-Ricket and utility Braydon Mitchell who is rehabbing some niggling injuries.
Beaten semi-finalists Eastern Northern Barbarians have lost a lot of experienced players including Rory McCall, Bill Christie, Scott McKee, Willy Short, Jake Lawlor and Caleb Young. A badly broken leg to a front rower in last week’s warm-up match has added to the pressure.
Marist has lost about five regular starting players from last year including loose forwards Brad Whyte and Tangaroa Walker.
Woodlands has assembled a very strong squad this year and it showed when it beat Marist last week in a warm-up match by six tries to two.
Former Southland halfback Liam Howley is one of the club’s new recruits, with another four or five players from the North Island who are keen to get a Stags contract. Midfielders Marty McKenzie and Ray Nu’u and forwards Joe Walsh, Charles Alamoa and Matt James are some of the stars of the team.
Pirates Old Boys has a similar team to last year. Greg Dyer is back in the 10 jersey; his links with Isaac Tamaki and Jaye Thompson will be important. Pirates Old Boys beat Star in their warm-up match last week.
In the lower divisions, Riverton, Balfour-Lumsden, Mataura, Otautau and Ohai-Nightcaps teams are all sitting out the 2020 season.
This week’s draw, all games 3pm unless stated.
Premier grade (Galbraith Shield): Woodlands v Blues, Pirates Old Boys v Marist, Star v Barbarians.
Division one (Ack Soper Shield): Waikaka v Edendale, Riversdale v Midlands, Te Anau v Wyndham. Gerald Dermody Shield: Tokanui v Pioneer, Wakatipu v Waikiwi, Albion v Mossburn.
Division two (CJ Soper Trophy): Bluff v Pioneer, DLS v Blues B at Drummond, Star B v Waiau Star. Life Members Trophy: POB B v Marist B at 2pm, Central Pirates v Woodlands B, Collegiate v Midlands B.
Presidents grade (Presidents Cup): Waikaka v Marist 1.30pm, Collegiate v Wyndham 1.30pm, Waikaia v Blues 3pm. Presidents trophy: Tokanui v Pukerau 1.30pm, Star v Waikiwi 1.30pm, Central Pirates bye.
Women’s grade: Pioneer v Marist, Albion v Blues. Both games Sunday 1pm.