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Coaches ‘quietly confident’

ON THE CHARGE: Ngati Porou East Coast winger Te Peehi Fairlie leads the charge, with support from Morgan Poi, against Poverty Bay. Both are in action tomorrow when the Sky Blues play Thames Valley. Picture by Paul Rickard

NGATI Porou East Coast have not won a game in the Heartland Championship since September 28, 2013, but coaches Troy Para and Wayne Ensor are “quietly confident” heading into tomorrow’s match game against Thames Valley in Ruatoria.

That might be surprising, given the TAB is offering $7 for a Coast win.

“That’s probably based on our recent performances, and it’s a fair call,” Para said.

“But the boys have worked on fitness, an area that has let us down in the past.

“We’ve brought in Regan Horsfall as our strength and conditioning coach and he’s given the boys a good workout over the past seven weeks. The boys are fit and in good spirits.

“But the time for talking stops at 2.30pm tomorrow. Once the players cross the white line it’s down to them.”

While the Coast have played one pre-season game (a draw with Eastern Bay of Plenty), the Swamp Foxes have played two warm-up games — a 26-25 loss to Taranaki Development and a 27-20 victory over Auckland Colts. Last year, Thames Valley did not win a Heartland game.

“I’ve seen footage of Thames and they look to have recruited well,” Para said.

“But the team are determined to get the monkey off our back.”

Thames Valley coach Matt Bartleet, in his first season as head coach after three seasons as assistant, said his focus was on this game and nothing else.

“We’re building, with 11 new caps in the squad,” he said.

“We may not have the flair of previous Valley sides but we looked for players with character and true grit, which was evident when we came back against Auckland Colts.”

A key player for Valley side this season could be former Chiefs and Waikato No.8 Alex Bradley. The 36-year-old played 36 games for Waikato, captaining them to a Ranfurly Shield win, and made six appearances for the Chiefs.

Bartleet has also recruited former Waikato sevens flyer Harry Lafituanai and former Irish under-18 and u20 captain Rory Maloney, who will wear the No.7 jersey.

NGATI POROU EAST COAST (1-15): Michael Chambers, Perrin Manuel, Laman Davies, Hone Haerewa, Morgan Poi, Trent Proffit, Paddy Allen, Parekura Lalaga, Neihana Ratahi-Brown, Keelan Poi, Jayden Milner, Kahu Ward, Te Wehi Wright, Te Peehi Fairlie, Kris Palmer.

Reserves: Kareti Palmer, Dan Knubley, Rhys Walker, Manaia Nyman, Fabyan Kahaki, Tiopira Slade, Verdon Bartlett.