Five old timers who will show they still have it
1 Alex Ainley [Tasman]
Is he trying to break Brad Thorn’s records? Most important is 36 year-old Ainley’s undiminished output at Super Rugby level where his tackling percentage and overall work rate was still team-leading.
Benefitting from playing his younger rugby in Japan and Italy, Ainley still has the verve and his body is holding up – for the most part – fine. For the Makos, Ainley provides a sure pick at lock and enables his coaches to work around him. In his gruff way, is still enjoying himself.
2 Dwayne Sweeney [Waikato]
Fifteen years after his first game for Waikato, Sweeney returns to join Stephen Donald and Liam Messam as the veterans. Like the other two, Sweeney may not play every game on offer, but the confidence and knowledge the elder statesmen pass down is the intangible asset to the union.
Coming from the more successful days of Waikato teams past, the midfielder will inject some much needed pride and passion into the jersey which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011.
3 Jarrad Hoeata [North Harbour]
He left New Zealand with his potential unfulfilled. For Harbour, they will at least rely on weekly physicality, technical proficiency and street smarts against young provincial upstarts.
Three-test All Black Hoeata’s time at Cardiff Blues will have made him even gnarlier in the tight stuff and he will ably fill the hole left by last season’s captain, Chris Vui. A much needed acquisition for Harbour to stay in the Premiership.
4 Tim Boys [Southland]
The Stags need something [anything] that resembles good news leading into the 2017 season and the feel-good factor comes in the shape of 34-year-old Boys.
The leathery tackling machine is coming off an eight-month rugby sabbatical at his own behest and the hunger to smash rucks and tackle fast-moving behemoths has returned.
For a Southland team that has become the least sought after jersey for up and coming players in recent years, having Boys around is a significant boon.
5 Liam Messam [Waikato]
Filling up the Mooloo bus’s back seat with Stephen Donald and Sweeney, Messam has been around since 2003 and there isn’t much he hasn’t done in the game.
Although the speed that made him such a dynamic flanker has dissipated with age and corrosion, his biggest worth to Waikato is his IP. Messam’s mana is an asset for coach Sean Botherway and even if he doesn’t get the lion’s share of the minutes, his influence on the training pitch will translate to game day. Will more than hold his own on the field too.