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coach3As one door closes, another opens is the philosophy Ngati Porou East Coast coach Whetu Haerewa (left) is taking in his first season in charge of the Sky Blues.

The Coast have lost multiple players from last year’s Heartland Championship squad, meaning a level of rebuilding is ahead of them this year.

“In all sports when there is a changing of the guard there is a change of focus,” he told The Herald. “We certainly have had a substantial number of players move on to play for other unions, which is great. Hopefully over the next 12 months you will see some of these players in the ITM Cup.

“With players moving on, it is an opportunity for others to step up to the challenge of playing in the Heartland Championship,” he said.

“On that note, if there are players out there who have a desire to play for Ngati Porou East Coast, their best opportunity to make an impression is through our club competition.

“If anyone wants to make a play for the team they should be playing in our local competition. This is the competition that Troy Para (backs coach and Hikurangi head coach) and I watch the most.”

Haerewa recently named a 31-strong Coast squad from which 22 will be selected to play in the annual Queen’s Birthday Weekend clash with Poverty Bay in Ruatoria.

The entire squad are East Coast club-based players although loan players will be considered for the Heartland campaign.

Up for grabs in the local derby will be the Anaru “Skip” Paenga Memorial Trophy won 30-14 by Poverty Bay in Gisbroen last year.

Haerewa said the Coast were looking forward to the match.

“It will be an opportunity for us to remember the great service Skip Paenga provided for Ngati Porou East Coast both as an educationalist and a rugby referee.”

Meanwhile, Para’s cards are almost glued to his chest when it comes to getting comment out of him about top-of-the-table Hikurangi’s form in the Coast club competition so far.

Hiku are unbeaten with a perfect record of nine wins for 45 points — last weekend’s victory courtesy of a default by bottom-placed Ruatoria City.

They are 16 points ahead of Tawhiti, whose 15-7 win over Tokomaru Bay United saw them move into second place after the first games of round 2.

Hicks Bay’s 22-8 bonus-point win over TVC moved them into third while TVC dropped to fourth. Tokararangi, who beat Waiapu 19-10, are fifth.

Only five points separate the teams from second to fifth with seven matches to go to the top-four playoffs.

Para refuses to talk up his team’s chances of retaining the title in their 95th anniversary season.

He notes Hicks Bay have a huge incentive in winning in their centennial year and have been going about their business “under the radar”. Their firepower has been boosted by the return of lock-loose forward Jay Jay Skipworth, who will no doubt be eyeing a Sky Blue jersey.

Para also has a close eye on Tawhiti, who he described as the season’s “bolters”.

Their clash with Hicks Bay is likely to be the match of this weekend.

Haerewa said that while Hikurangi were the team to beat, Tawhiti had “created a great culture and team environment, with a number of players currently involved in our wider training group”.

In his role with the NPEC Heartland team, Para has been impressed by the performances of several players in the club competition. His stand-outs include young TVC Peeti Delamere, who has been playing predominantly at fullback but could fit anywhere in the backline; Hicks Bay and Coast midfield warhorse Tyrone Delamere; and Tokorarangi winger Mo Bartlett.

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