The Under 21 Massey Cup grade kicked off last weekend with defending champions Patumahoe Albycon Ltd, Pukekohe and Papakura picking up first round wins.
This weekend’s clash between Papakura and 2017 runners-up Karaka feature as the Counties Power Game of the Week with the neighbouring clubs from either side of the motorway meeting at Massey Park.
Papakura is hoping to take a big step forward this season having entered the grade for the first time in many seasons last year. A large portion of the squad is returning in 2018 and expectation is high.
“We got together last year and we brought a lot of young, local guys into the side,” coach John Halton said. “It was a challenge for us but we were pretty happy with how we went.
“We have kicked on this year and a few older boys have joined them, which makes a difference for us.
“We have put a big emphasis on local boys. I have coached junior boys and went through the system at Rosehill College and it is really good to see a lot of guys coming back to rugby once they realized we had a team.
“I think we have enough depth year. If we get this squad going in four to five years we will have a prem side packed with Papakura boys.”
That will help continue to drive the hard work done at the club with their premier side showing big signs of improvement over the past two seasons.
Halton’s side enjoyed a win over Manurewa in their season-opener despite missing a couple of key members of his back-line.
“We are pretty happy with where we are at,” Halton said.
“We had to restructure our backline a little bit but the boys went really well.
“They went off pattern but then went back to our systems and we scored tries again.”
Their opposition on Saturday had the bye in the opening round so they organized an extra pre-season game against Waikato University instead.
Coach Pat Flavell welcomes back the majority of his side that made last year’s championship final.
“I would say from last year’s squad we would have probably 15 of that side back this year,” Flavell explained. “We have brought on board another half a dozen new players and they have certainly added to the strength of the squad.
“In terms of numbers we are not looking too bad. We would have a solid 25 and maybe up to 27-28 in terms of those who have kept in touch but haven’t been frequent to trainings.”
Flavell predicts Papakura to be a better side in 2018 and is expecting a big challenge this weekend.
“They were pretty competitive and they were a young side. They have a never-give-up attitude and they are quite strong in the rucks.
“I expect a stronger and more mature Papakura side.”
Karaka clearly have ambitions of going one better than last year in lifting the trophy at the season’s end but expect the usual suspects to be right there with them.
“What came out of the weekend – Patty, Pukekohe and probably Papakura being the main threats,” Flavell explained. “In saying that Ardmore Marist had a slow start also last year and then, as the season went on, they came together well and were unlucky not to make the final.”
In Premier 1 action Karaka hosts Patumahoe Troydon Patumahoe Hotel in a top-of-the-table clash while Pukekohe Mitre 10 hosts Waiuku Brian James Contracting and Manurewa Kidd Contracting travels to Onewhero. Four-time defending champs Bombay will look to snap a four-game losing streak against Papakura while Te Kauwhata EnviroWaste hosts Ardmore Marist South Auckland Motors.