Five players are in-line to make their PIC Steelers debut after being named in coach Reon Graham’s first Bunnings Warehouse NPC side of the season to face Taranaki in New Plymouth on Friday night.
Karaka prop Salesi Tuifua and Patumahoe lock James Thompson have been named in the starting side for this week’s season opener, while Pukekohe hooker Ian West-Stevens, prop Siate Taupaki (Patumahoe) and halfback Kanavale Helu (Pukekohe) could all debut off the bench.
All players have enjoyed superb McNamara Cup seasons with their respective clubs.
Taupaki comes into the squad as an injury replacement with Ezekiel Lindenmuth and Lionel Evans unavailable this week.
The side features the return of the experienced Jimmy Tupou at lock and Maama Vaipulu at blindside flanker, while try scoring outside back Toni Pulu returns on the bench. The trio have been favourite sons at Counties Manukau and return after a number of seasons playing abroad.
Former All Black number eight Hoskins Sotutu will start the game on the back of the scrum while the experienced Sean Reidy captains the side with Riley Hohepa named as vice-captain.
“The whole group are very excited to start our campaign,” said coach Reon Graham. “We have a had a good build up and are looking forward to a very tough challenge against Taranaki.
“A couple of niggling injuries have held a few players back, but this provides opportunities for other people who are very keen to get amongst it. We will have five debutants this week, all of which have put their hand up through the club season so it’s great to reward them with an opportunity.”
The game kicks off at 7.35pm at Yarrow Stadium.
PIC Steelers v Taranaki: 1. Kauvaka Kaivelata, 2. Ioane Moananu, 3. Salesi Tuifua, 4. Jimmy Tupou, 5. James Thompson, 6. Maama Vaipulu, 7. Sean Reidy (capt), 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 9. Liam Daniela, 10. Riley Hohepa, 11. Peniasi Malimali, 12. AJ Alatimu, 13. Nikolai Foliaki, 14. Joshua Gray, 15. Etene Nanai-Seturo. Reserves: Ian West-Stevens, Siate Taupaki, Suetena Asomua, Alex McRobbie, Sam Tuifua, Kanavale Helu, Tevita Ofa, Toni Pulu.
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