Lost in Championship final to North Harbour (14-17).
Players to Watch:
Vilimoni Koroi: The fleet-footed outside back has already made a name for himself fresh out of Fielding High School for the New Zealand Sevens team and is a real scoop for Otago. Expect to see him feature at fullback initially, while Michael Collins is out, before forming a dangerous back three on the wing with Collins and NZ Under 20s rocket Jona Nareki.
Sio Tomkinson: Stuck in a midfield logjam with Tei Walden, Matt Faddes and the newly recruited Leroy Van Dam, this is a huge year in Tomkinson’s blossoming career. Having received minutes, largely on the wing, for the Highlanders this season, he needs to kick on and show Cory Brown that he deserves to start week-in-week-out.
Josh Furno: The Italian Stallion is the tallest man in the competition at 2.10m, and with 37 Italian caps to his name he brings the experience to take this Otago team to new heights. Effectively replacing Tom Franklin, who has moved home to Bay of Plenty, he will compete with Josh Dickson, Tom Rowe and Blair Tweed for a starting jersey in the engine room.
Josh Renton: Plagued by injuries recently, he also has reason to be worried after an impressive debut season for the blue and gold from Jono Ruru. He has a contest on his hands to claim the starting spot and also to fight with Kayne Hammington to be Aaron Smith’s partner in crime for the ‘Landers.
Pat Sio: The bruising number eight who was once touted as the “next Wycliff Palu,” and has lived in his brother Scott’s shadow to this point, has made the move from Stade Francais. Still plenty of time to ignite his career at 23, and here’s hoping Otago’s the place it happens.
Unlucky to Miss Out:
Jonah Aoina (Kaikorai), Mika Mafi, Josh Clark (Southern), Hame Toma, Mark Grieve Dunn (Dunedin), Lisala Halaleva (Harbour).
Finish: Win in the final vs. Wellington
Top Point-Scorer: Fletcher Smith
Top Try-Scorer: Matt Faddes
Expected Team for First Game:
Forwards: Seiuli, Anderson-Heather/Pole, Millar, Furno, Tweed, Lentjes, Hunt, Teu;
Backs: Renton, Smith, Nareki, Walden, Faddes, Koroi/Tomkinson, Collins/Koroi. Pole/Ricky Jackson, Brighouse, Sasagi, Dickson, Knight; Ruru, Ioane, Tomkinson/Van Dam.