The NHRU season kick-off has been delayed until at least May 2. The majority of clubs have finalised their squads. The competition will again feature nine clubs but the finals series has been reduced to four teams. The Herald is taking a close look at each of the clubs in the lead-up. Here is University.
Coach: Tony Munro
Last year: 8th (3 wins, 15 losses, 306 points for, 794 against)
Arrivals: Carl Manu, Devante Manu (Maitland), Tana Manu, Cullen Simpson (Canterbury, NZ), Taulogo Lalaga (Northern Suburbs), Dylan Heins, Sepati Peniata, Ray Alo (Lake Macquarie), Chris Smith, Junior Polai, Orissi Vosuqa (Nelson Bay), Tom Beddingfield (Randwick), Ek Lambert-Leplastrier (Gungahlin), Geordie Boyce (rugby league)
Departures: Dane Le Rugetel , Adrian Delore (Sthn Beaches), Zeon McNabb (returning NZ), Armand Pienaar (work commitments), Michael Al-Jiboori (returning US).
No club has undergone more change than the Students. They have recruited heavily from outside the university body and shape as the big improvers.
Q&A - coach Tony Munro
The COVID-19 outbreak has delayed the start of the competition until May 2 at the earliest. If the green light is given, what is the best way forward?
The only option is to wipe the entire first round. That way the integrity of the competition remains and there is a period for trial games and gala days to get teams ready for the season proper.
You have attracted a number of quality players to the club, what areas did you target?
Initially I was contacted and met with Dylan Heins and Carl Manu. I told them what we planned to put in place and what we wanted to achieve. Once they were on board, the rest kept coming. We had to get some size and experience and a bit of mongrel. I think we have done that in Dylan Heins, Sapati Peniata, Chris Smith and Junior Polai. They will support the other guys we have like Va Tailaleva and the front-rowers.
The NHRU rumour mill has been suggesting the club has splashed plenty of cash on players.
I have heard rumours that we are giving Carl Manu $30,000. We wouldn't survive if that was the case. We have a scholarship program in place and we have helped a few guys out but it is not a significant amount of money. We had to do what we had to do. I'm not going to hide from it and it's something i have never done before, but we had to build some depth around these kids because they were getting bashed up every year.
Under the player points cap, Uni have 24 points, which equates to eight new players. Some of the fresh faces will be students and worth zero points but many are not. How do you plan to fit everyone in?
People have been saying that we are going to enrol players in mickey mouse courses and that is just not the case. The guys who aren't students we will declare. We have looked at the balance of the team and and informed the players it could be an issue at stages during the year. Guys like Ray Alo and Carl have put their hands up to play in the lower grades to help the young kids. They want to move into coaching roles down the track and see Uni as a way to do that.
What about the players who got a taste of first grade in 2019. What impact have the changes had on them?
Carl Manu is one of the best trainers I have come across. Dylan is the same. Having them around has lifted the younger players. We were worried about bringing in so much new blood but everyone has gotten to know each other and the mix has been good.
Tony Munro put new structures in place in his first year at Uni. But it didn't take him long to realise they needed more experienced and bigger bodies to compete with the leading contenders. They have certainly done that. Carl Manu will conduct a backline that has pedigree and power aplenty. Defensively they appear capable of muscling up and Heins and Peniata will provide a hard edge at the tackle contest. How it all comes together will determine how high they climb.
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