Southland Stags’ 2021 prospects have been hit hard by impressive tight pillar Siate Tokolahi heading overseas to play.
In a Stags article last week, Stags coach Dale MacLeod raised concerns about the depth of support in Southland ahead of the NPC.
He was particularly concerned about the right side of the fray and said if the Stags lost Tokolahi they would be in big trouble.
Shortly after this interview, MacLeod was informed that the Highlanders’ prop had decided to accept an offer to play in France.
* Serious concerns about Southland’s support stocks as NPC approaches
* Club players have the option to claim Southland Stags
* Highlanders lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit with Bay of Plenty for Miter 10 Cup
Tokolahi was signed for the 2021 NPC season but had a opt-out clause that allowed him to head out to sea if he wished.
Tokolahi was one of the best of the Stags last season and was also a key contributor for the Highlanders.
MacLeod is now looking for a replacement tight head accessory.
He was already in the support resource market as tight-headed props Chris Apoua and Lio Tosi had confirmed their departure ahead of Tokolahi’s announcement.
MacLeod said losing all three tight-headed props, for a variety of reasons, from Team 2020 was a big blow.
He added that Tokolahi was a player they could have built a group of forwards on this season.
“It’s appalling, but we have to keep going, it’s just a matter of what we have now.”
Meanwhile, the Stags leadership has appointed a high performance team to prepare for the 2021 NPC season which begins in August.
The squad will train together for the next three weeks, allowing Stags coaches to assess where the players are at and which players are ready to commit.
After this three week period, a fine team will be appointed. That could include new additions, and it could also see some players drop out of the squad who are not up to the task, MacLeod said.
The high-performance squad doesn’t include Highlanders Ethan de Groot, Solomon Alaimalo and Josh Moorby, lockdown Mike McKee, based in Pukekohe, and outside fullback Rory van Vugt who plays in the United States.
MacLeod plans to contract around 34 players and has 10 to 12 contracts available at this point.
Only two running backs were named to the high performance squad, which MacLeod recognized as an indicator of the lack of depth in the position.
He said there were decisions to be made whether to start with two running backs, Liam Howley and Jay Renton, or sign another running back from outside the region.
If they went with just the two fullbacks and one injured MacLeod, they could end up in trouble.
NPC rules do not allow players to be brought in from out of province after round five, with the exception of frontrowers.
Southland has some good young half-backs in Josh Murrell and Osika Kaufononga, but MacLeod said they still have some development to do before playing at the NPC level.
MacLeod had talks with a running back returning from playing in Japan, but the player has since signed with Canterbury.
High performance squad
Joe Walsh, Kane Prentice, Sanasco Crichton, Chris Barrett, Niko Manaena, Greg Plesants-Tate, Flynn Thomas, Jacob Payne, Talemaitonga Tuapati, Caleb Aperhama, Joe Robins, Aleki Saili, Craig Smith, Ben Fotheringham, Ben Paulin, Matt James Jacob Coglan, Hayden Michaels, Dustin Coveney, Charles Alaimalo, Laim Udy-Johns, Arese Poliko, Jay Renton, Liam Howley, Marty McKenzie, Greg Dyer, Bram Fodie, Emeka IIogu, Tevita Latu, Desmond Spooner, Matt Whaanga, Isaac Te Tamaki, Micaiah Johnston-Brown, Materua Tupou, Will Murray, Kieran Lee, Brad Kooman.