Cyclones eye promotion
The Manawatu¯ Cyclones’ sights should be set squarely on promotion this season.
The Cyclones start their Farah Palmer Cup campaign tomorrow, hosting Taranaki at the Arena, Palmerston North, and they should have high expectations for the year.
Last season the competition was split into north and south pools due to Covid-19, but it has reverted to the top-tier premiership and bottom-tier championship format.
So Manawatu¯ , who were relegated from the premiership to the championship in 2019, will play in the championship this year, even though they were a semifinalist last season.
The championship is a lopsided competition and Manawatu¯ should account for most of the sides in there.
Hawke’s Bay, North Harbour, Northland, Taranaki and Tasman are the other teams, and Northland loom as their biggest challenger.
But Manawatu¯ coach Fusi Feaunati wasn’t getting ahead of himself.
‘‘We’re confident of what we can do and how we’re going to do things,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re not being complacent.
‘‘We had a good year last year through some good development and growth in our programme. We’re not taking anyone lightly and we know what we’re capable of.’’
He said they had a goal and were motivated to be promoted.
This year Manawatu¯ , who have a gun backline as usual and power in their forward pack, performed well in pre-season, beating Taranaki 61-0, Hawke’s Bay 45-10 and Wellington 38-5.
Even though a couple of key players are out this year, Feaunati said they had depth.
‘‘It’s getting to the point now where we’re leaving people out as opposed to struggling to find players.’’
Sosoli Talawadua is pregnant and not playing this year, and Vaine Greig was unable to commit to the season.
Kaipo Olsen-baker is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her knee.
Lock Jess Fagan-pease has recovered from the hip injury that sidelined her last year, back Lauren Balsillie is over her calf and Achilles problems, and veteran Mahalia Polson is back in the side this year and has converted to a prop.
Youngster Elinorplum King has been impressive in club rugby and will start at openside flanker against Taranaki. Her Manukura schoolmate Holly-rae Mete will start on the wing. Newcomer Annemieke van Vliet is another who has looked good and will start at tighthead prop.
Rangimarie Sturmey, Corrineke Windle, Rhiarna Ferris and Ruby-may Ngaruhe are nearing a return from injury and Marilyn Live is unavailable this weekend.
Star fullback Selica Winiata will miss the first three games of the season while she is away refereeing sevens at the Tokyo Olympics.
Winiata is co-captain along with lock-loose forward Rachel Rakatau, so the hard-working Rakatau will lead the side.
There is a ready replacement at fullback in Crystal Mayes, while Janna Vaughan and Carys Dallinger are other attacking threats in the backline.