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Ngatapa door open

Healthy competition for places in premier team.

It's Jonesy for captain.

Feisty hooker Jason Jones, in his 14th season of premier rugby, will lead Larsawn Ngatapa in 2020.

“We had a big pre-season and — before the lockdown — it was the most excited I'd been about rugby for a long time,” said Jones, a member of the 2007 Ngatapa team who won the Lee Brothers Shield for the first time in 22 years. Their most recent title was in 2013.

At scrum-time, Jones has locked horns with some of the hardest of hombres, such as Thomas Miki (OBM) and Colin Skudder (YMP).

Ngatapa trained at Paddy's Park on Thursday night for the first time since March, and second-year head coach Steve Hickey expects the green-and-white machine to gather steam in quick time.

“Fifty-four guys from Rakauroa to Mahia got the message at the start of the season — the door's open,” said Hickey, 55, a stock agent.

“We've got the Chrisp brothers (loosehead prop Campbell and loose forward Alex) back, plus Tom Sanson, Lynden Manuel (formerly of Waikohu) and James Maher, our skipper in 2019.

“There'll be good competition for a back-row berth in our ranks this year and the expectation will be high.

“The vice-captain is Anthony Karauria, who will give us experience in the backline, where we also have Cam Rowden and Matt Raleigh.”

Last season, Rowden showed his versatility and played well. He was rarely caught out of position and was gutsy in defence.

Raleigh is elusive, and last year with ball in hand he regularly beat more than one would-be tackler — at representative level as well as for Ngatapa.

The likes of Jones, 33, and former Ngatapa captain Campbell Chrisp will do again what they've done up front year in, year out: toil. Their solidity frustrates opponents who often can't strip them of the ball, or who (because of them) can't get their own ball back cleanly in rucks and mauls.

Rugby fans who appreciate grit will appreciate that, and the value of such unsung heroes.

Hickey's assistant coach is club and Poverty Bay titan Sione Ngatu, capped a Bay record 153 times, and a double-centurion for Ngatapa.

Managers Steve Craill and David McDonald and trainer Tom Smith will do what needs doing.

Coach Hickey, a Counties man, enjoys the vibe of a “good country club with community spirit, high values” and a longtime supporter and naming sponsor who deserves special mention: John Larsen.

“John's outstanding for Ngatapa, he really is,” Hickey said.

“He's passionate about the place, about the people here. He's at training every Thursday night and sits down with the boys. He's great value.”

Heading into the crunch zone: Ngatapa hooker Jason Jones takes the ball to the Waikohu defensive line in a premier-grade rugby match in June last year. Jones — in his 14th season of premier rugby — will captain Ngatapa this year. Picture by Paul Rickard