Over the years I have often ventured out to watch Northland Development or Under 19 teams play just to get a handle on what’s coming through in my much beloved union and then to find out over half the team pulled out before the campaign started because travel and work commitments and primarily thinking that a prospective pathway to the top side was well and truly blocked once the contracted Mitre 10 Cup team was named.
Heading along yesterday to Bell Park in Pakuranga to watch the future Taniwha’s take on the Blues under 20s has definitely given supporters like myself a huge boost.
The game ended up 24 all after Northland had lead 24-7 at halftime
The Blues team had Finlay Christie at halfback, Nerai Fomai at 12 and Taine Plumtree at lock, he moved into the no 6 jersey in the 2nd period, and Jacob Kneepkins entered the game in the 2nd half, it was fair to say he was the most dangerous back on the paddock, he was a threat every time he had the ball in his hands .
Taine Plumtree is an outstanding forward, I am really surprised he was not picked up the canes looks more of a 6 than a lock.
The Blues looked much more of a threat when Cory Evans, another former Northland boy from Kaitaia took the field in the 2nd half, this kid has some amazing footwork for a first five, has been out with injury for the last 2 seasons. 2 other Northland boys were running around for the Blues 20s Ryan Nankivell at fullback and Josh Beehre at lock
Northland with Leka Tuangafasi and Kaliopasi Uluilapeka were outstanding at set piece time. Uluilapeka who has come from Wellington is a monster with ball hand, proving unstoppable close to the line scoring 2 tries but also constantly getting over the advantage line, from what I was told yesterday, he is a very good listener, has incredible strength, breaking the current Northland Bench press record in his first week in the gym.
He however is still carrying up 8-10 Kgs which on the plus he still has 3-4 months to address that issue.
It was my first look at Allan Craig who Northland signed last year, has all the core skills if not the size, looks more of a 6 than a lock but I suspect will be more of James Blackwell type player, not a bad thing as mitre 10 cup profile.
His looking partner Terepai King is taller and has put 10kgs since last year, could be a bolter for the Mitre 10 cup team.
The player that really put his hand up was Isi Manu, younger brother of Pauliasi Manu, came north last year, but was out of condition.
Was very good with ball hand when he slotted into number 8 and more importantly physical on the tackle.
Some boys with Taniwha experience started the game Johnny Cooper,Sam McNamara,Kalani Going,Mason Hohaia and Pisi Leilua and Rob Rush but were all pulled at halftime.
The Blues hit back with 2 tries with in 5 minutes of the restart, but this is where I was most pleased, with mostly their Player Union Development contract players on the paddock, they showed a ton heart to get back in the fight but more importantly defend their arses off… the front row of Fono and Martin who are only young guys with a bit size I must add did very well at set piece and the 2nd half loose forwards,Sage Hansen, Tom Baker and the 17 year old Zac Shanks who looks special made a lot of tackles and doesn’t mind the contact.
Fritz Rayasi who has made the decision to move up North from Wellington on his own accord looked really good with ball in hand, but will require some conditioning, very big guy.
Manny Snooks who is a tall strapping winger is another who I understand the union are investigating heavily in, is only very young is being likened SBW…,he certainly has a similar body shape if not the same height.
The Blues I understand are tracking his progress.
Rome Levi who marked Jacob Kneepkins did a really good job under the circumstances forcing him back inside on most occasions, but boy is Kneepkins hard to put down.
Brody Lam on the wing scored a try, but had few opportunities, Like the look of Kingi Herewini when he came on in the midfield, the boy has got some footwork, dazzling at times, but will have to work on his defence.
Was really impressed with the halfbacks on show Ilai Arona has a slick pass and a very good high kick game and did well up against Finlay Christie and young Jayden Kemp could be one to watch moving forward.
Great too see Nikau Graham back in the North, this kid has a very powerful left foot and an accurate goal kicking game to match.
In summary, talking to the coaching staff, they were very pleased with what they saw as was I.
I have always said if Northland can define clear pathways for the obvious talent that they generate, anything can happen!
And it’s already got players from one of our next door neighbours knocking on the door, looking at more tangible options as opposed to be player that’s in a group of 45 players that have Player Union Development contracts wondering. Will we ever get an opportunity to play for the top side?
On another interesting footnote, the NZRFU has sent a directive to Unions that they can only have 15 PUDC’s signed…needless to say Auckland are not happy, but to me, this where they need to work with their near neighbours and Blues franchise partners.