The McNamara Cup has provided plenty of exciting young talent that has gone on to reach higher honours in recent seasons and this year’s class looks to have some bright prospects.
Counties Sports Hub spoke to the coaches of each Premier side to get a gauge on some breakout candidates in 2023.
Coupled with watching some pre-season action – these are our selection of players to watch this season.
Austin Carew (Papakura)
A ex-Howick College player, the openside flanker played under coaches Thomas and Firth at Pakuranga U21s last season.
A physical player with a great ability to create turnovers, Carew is already in the Counties Manukau Academy.
Liam Dowdall (Pukekohe)
Winger Dowdall will almost certainly be a starter for coach Michael Porter in 2023 and is someone that could have a major impact on the end of a back-line for a team on the up.
Dowdall has electric speed and a solid skill-set that has experts keen to see how he progresses in Premier rugby this season.
Alex Eruera (Patumahoe)
Eruera has been around for a few seasons now and his young age belies his experience.
Injuries have hampered him to this point in his career – it seems every he has strung games together and got people talking he has suffered another injury set back.
Fully healthy and primed for a coming-of-age season, watch out for the versatile back line utility.
Varani Komaisavai (Ardmore Marist)
The Fijian first-five shapes a key figure for Ardmore Marist this McNamara Cup season.
Charged with leading the side around the park, Komaisavai is a bright talent that could well get his name into conversation for Counties Manukau rep sides.
Siaosi Lealiifano (Manurewa)
A talented all-round sportsman, Lealiifano is a midfield/winger out of Sacred Heart’s 1st XV system.
With a background in touch, Lealiifano has great speed and footwork.
He played NZ Cavaliers Schools Sevens last year and his older brother Brian was the MVP World Sevens.
Aiden McPherson (Patumahoe)
The talented young halfback has had a taste of Premier rugby but looks to be a player of immense talent.
He is currently stuck behind PIC Steelers halfback Liam Daniela and is battling utility back Aue Parima for game time but the upside is very clear.
McPherson has the goods to force coach Brad Healy into finding him playing time.
TJ Meleisea (Bombay)
The powerful and hard-working loose forward will be a key player for Bombay and their new coach Mike Tuiloma this season.
He impressed last season and will benefit from playing on the back of what should be a strong forward pack.
He will be expected to do some heavy lifting while skipper Adam Brash works his way back from injury but could form a lethal combination with him by the mid-season.
Nicholas Muli (Karaka)
Muli was the skipper of the victorious Karaka U21 side last season and is an ex-St Peters College player.
Part of the Counties Manukau Academy, Muli is a hooker with an accurate line-out throw and in strong with ball in hand.
He is in the Chiefs U20 squad.
Josh Penney (Karaka)
Penney is a quality first-five/fullback that will do well under the tutelage of former Steelers player and current Karaka coach Craig Hill.
The ex-Auckland Grammar star has long been identified as a prodigious talent and is well known to the Union.
Look for him to establish himself as a Premier player this season.
Taeao Pomale-Time (Karaka)
A Karaka junior that went to Manurewa High School, he is part of the Counties Manukau Academy.
Pomale has the ability to play at either blindside or number eight and good in the air and athletic around the field.
Was part of the Chiefs U20 wider squad.
Jack Schmidt (Ardmore Marist)
The 6’8 lock hails from a basketball background – hardly surprising given his height. He was tipped for big things with new coach Felipo Levi, who knows a thing or two about playing in the forwards, but a fractured ankle in the pre-season is going to delay his debut.
Watch for Schmidt in the second half of the season as someone that could interest the PIC Steelers coaches.
Nic Snyman (Papakura)
A talented young halfback that is already in the Counties Manukau Academy and someone that looms as someone that Papakura can build a future around.
Out of Howick College, where he worked under new Papakura co-coach Mark Thomas, Snyman played Premier rugby for Marist last season.
Possessing a fast and accurate pass, Snyman will be called up upon to set the Papakura backline alight.
Darren Tiumalu (Ardmore Marist)
Tiumalu looks likely to be a key player for Ardmore Marist this season, packing down on the back of their scrum and could possibly be a candidate as captain of the side.
He grew up in the Bay of Plenty but made the move to King Country last season and played NPC rugby in 2022.
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