Heartland Championship: Players to watch
Wednesday, August 22, 2018 allblacks.com Getty Images
Luke Brownlee (Buller)
Buller openside flanker Luke Brownlee is the epitome of Heartland rugby. The 38-year-old has notched an astonishing 193 games for Buller (including non-first-class games) and should pass the 200 barrier this season provided he can stay injury free. A fierce competitor, relentless at the breakdown and an inspirational leader, Brownlee is the glue that binds Buller together. A true legend of the game, after every home game Brownlee jumps in his 4x4 and goes straight to milk the cows.
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Seta Koroitamana (Mid Canterbury)
In Seta Koroitamana, Mid Canterbury have a potent attacking weapon that is sure to wreak havoc on opposition defensive lines throughout the season. The hard-running loose forward is a genuine game breaker and strong on the offload. Koroitamana also offers genuine pace and has been sighted on the wing for Mid Canterbury in the past. His strong form in 2017 was rewarded with a spot in the NZ Heartland team. Expect Koroitamana to take on a leadership role for Mid Canterbury this year as one of the more experienced players in the side.
Every team needs at least one genuine game breaker and Harry Lafituanai ticks that box for Thames Valley. Oozing with x-factor and always looking to attack, Lafituanai offers blistering pace, a potent step and superb timing onto the ball. Defensively, Lafituanai is dependable whether as the last line of defence at fullback or as an enforcer in the midfield.
While Wanganui have a lot of flair out wide, lock/loose forward Campbell Hart is a key part of the forward pack that sets the tone upfront. Excellent at line out time and ever-present at the breakdown, Hart is also a strong ball-runner to complete his triple threat. The versatile 27-year-old is a genuine leader in the Wanganui side and one the younger players will look to when the pressure gets going in the 2018 campaign.
Epeli Rayaqayaqa (Wairarapa Bush)
One of the most versatile players in the Heartland Championship, Epeli Rayaqayaqa regular position is in the loose forwards but can also play on the wing. Rayaqayaqa made a huge impact in his first season for Wairarapa Bush last year by ending as the side’s top try-scorer. At just 1.67cm tall, the electric Rayaqayaqa is very hard to put down with ball in hand and could well top the try-scoring again for Wairarapa Bush in 2018.
Sam Sturgess is North Otago’s captain for the 2018 Heartland campaign. He brings with him a lot of experience in the front row and leadership qualities. He has captained Otago University to a Premiership win and has played for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup. Sam was captain of Otago B and has played a season in Spain and Hong Kong. Relentless at the breakdowns and a fierce competitor, he inspires those around him to work harder.
The Heartland Championship kicks off on Saturday 25 August. Click here for the full draw.
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