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Story courtesy of College Sport Media

Wellington hasn’t had a representative at the National Top Four since Scots College made the final in 2015. Last year St Patrick’s College, Silverstream drew the Hurricanes Regional final with Napier Boys’ High School but cruelly missed on Nationals due to countback rules.

Can any Wellington school threaten the elite in New Zealand in 2023?

It will be tough for Silverstream to emulate 2022. A high turnover of talent results in a less experienced squad though they enjoy an abundance of back-row size talent. 

Jackson Mendoza and Braydon Soi return for their second and third seasons respectively while Alex Hewitt, son of former All Black Norm Hewitt who joins the coaching staff, has made a big impression. On Saturday he scored the winning try in the 32-30 traditional triumph over Palmerston North Boys' High School.

Captain Maui Winitana-Patelesio dazzled at times last season and with greater confidence and maturity will continue to grow. David Tokalautawa and Elijah Solomona will be other key figures in the backline.

St Pats Town hasn’t won the Premiership since 2015 but with an accomplished coaching staff that includes Ross Bond, Bernie Upton, Willie Leota, and Chris Sterling should develop into a decent unit. The pack will be typically abrasive with Wellington Under 16 reps Solomona Vaka, Riley Bracewell, and Ronnie Sofeni expected to be at the fore.

The backline doesn’t appear as strong though there is some excellent individual talent with Jayde Burns, Max Reynolds, Chris Taulogo, and Tenga Pickering. William Stenhouse is the brother of Blues Under-20 first-five Christian Stenhouse. Dominic Mettrick is the brother of livewire fullback Francis Mettrick who made a big impression on the team from 2020 to 2022. Ryan Mallon is the senior North Island long and triple jump champion as well as a handy outside back.

Wellington College has had two heart-breaking single-point losses in semis the past two seasons. A high-profile coaching staff spearheaded by former All Blacks Neemia Tialata and Piri Weepu will offer plenty of mana and expertise. However, without most of the 2022 roster, including New Zealand Secondary Schools' first-five Stanley Solomon, Wellington will have to rebuild quickly. 

The forward pack is on the small side but workhorse loosie Jack Riley is an outstanding captain and will be well supported by locks Joe McGuinness and Harry Law. While there doesn’t appear to be anyone of Solomon’s quality in the backline, outside back Jacob Kennedy, halfback Harry Bremer and the bulky midfield pairing of D’Mitruis Rere and Ezekiel Hotai are worth watching.

Wellington has beaten Gisborne Boys' High School and St Pats Town (16-14) to start 2023. The Town match was for the Old Boys Cup and doubled as the opening match of the Premiership.

Making the semi-finals in 2022 was a fine achievement for Rongotai College. While they may lack the size of previous seasons coaches Tony Philp (ex-NZ Sevens) and Joe Flu have been working hard to improve fitness and develop a high-tempo game plan. Twins Sila and Situ Faavae look likely to run the backline at 10 and 12 respectively. Props Nico Metuariki and Marley Fretton return. Metuariki is in his third year of First XV rugby and loves to make an impact with the ball in hand. Rongotai lost preseason matches to Central North Island champions Feilding High School, 2019 National champions Hastings Boys' High School, and Palmerston North. It's a tough program that will prepare them well for the rigors of a Wellington winter.

Andre Bell should shake things up as the new Director of Rugby at Scots. The former Bay of Plenty and Otago first-five has vast experience as a professional coach, including a stint as Wellington Lions assistant. He makes the switch from St Pats Town to replace the outgoing Sam Rasch whose seven years with the Presbyterians delivered three championships but concluded with a disappointing fifth-place finish last year.

Semurana Fepulea'i, Charlie Barton, Jake Lawson, Reweti Ngarimu, Pyrenees Boyle-Tiatia, and Manihera Gardner are all Wellington Under 16 reps that Bell will have at his disposal. Ietitaia Campbell is the most experienced player in the competition with five years in the First XV. He has a big frame and bigger boot which will be a real asset for Scots.

Hutt International Boys’ School (HIBS) caused a right stir last year when they knocked over Wellington College and won a school-record four Premiership games.

The team is coached by former Wellington lock Richard Devery and led strongly by his son, No.8 Tom Devery who joined hooker George White in the Wellington Under 16s. Lock Rhys Evans is another robust forward. Of the new backs centre Brodee Tetevano and first-five Sean Carter appear promising. In preseason HIBS scored notable victories over Hato Paora College and Palmerston North Boys’ High School. In grading two easy wins earned them a bye last weekend.

Mana College failed to win a match in 2022 but has retained its Premiership status for a fourth consecutive year. New coach Tai Metuariki, assisted by Wellington Lions captain Du'Plessis Kirifi, will look to translate five halftime leads in 2022 to 2023 wins.

Loose forward Otis Baker leads well through strong ball-carrying and defensive work rate.  Jason Faleafaga is an outside back with loads of potential and Vaaitino Baker has worked hard in preseason to better utilise his rare two-metre frame.

St Bernard's College scrambled back into the Premiership with a narrow 14-11 win over gusty Paraparaumu College on Saturday. St Bernard's won half of their round-robin games in 2022, and have the talent to do so again, but will have to be much better than what they were in grading. 

First-Five Josh Le’afa-Paki leads the team with poise and silky skills. He was MVP for the Wellington Under 18 league team who were third at the recent Nationals. Second-five Regan Grey is another accomplished league player with transferable skills.

In the forwards, Andy Soana’i will provide most of the muscle. Lock Isaac McGuinness, a Wellington Under 16 representative, is a diligent grafter.

Wairarapa College started training in January with the goal of making the Premiership and accomplished that feat easily with the biggest win by any team in grading. 'Wai Col' has beaten Scots and Wellington College in the past and is notoriously tricky at home.

Conley Alexander leads the team. Formerly an openside the dynamic hooker plays with skill, determination, and a selfless regard for his team. Halfback Le Sharn Paku is naturally gifted and as fit as a fiddle with a background in CrossFit. 

Other key members of the roster include Tuakana Teina, Cohen Scott (vice-captain), Junior Malatai, and Charlie Carroll in the backline supported by Manuia Lio, Murphy Henricksen, Mitchell Shields, Cooper Thompson, and Cyrus Wilson in the forwards.

The resurgence of Tawa College is a heart-warming story. In 2022 they failed to make the semis in Premier 3 and lost their first grading match to Hutt Valley High School. Following a 34-17 victory over Porirua College on Saturday they’re back in the topflight.

Cliff Hunt is coaching Tawa. He was involved with Bishop Viard College several seasons ago and counts All Black John Schwalger as a talent he has mentored. Hunt has 28 players at his disposal including sons Anthony and Cliff Junior. Anthony is a powerful No.8 who will support openside and captain Omari Parera in a strong loose forward trio. Hunt Junior is a second-five and forms a sturdy combination with Labront Muldrock. Hooker Malachi Suniula and lock Olly Smith are the backbone of the pack.

Article added: Friday 19 May 2023


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