Bulls Blood youngsters in Bartercard Cup opener

Mike Saunders, fullback Layne Green and teenage stand-off Darren Tonihi will make their Bartercard Cup debuts for the Canterbury Bulls today in this seasons Bartercard Cup openener when the Bull face Waitakere Rangers in Auckland.

Saunders has been named on the wing for the Auckland match and has paired Tonihi with Wellington Orcas acquisition Leon Boyd in the halves. West Coaster Green will play fullback with his Halswell clubmate Lusi Sione unavailable to play on Saturday for religious reasons. 2nd-rower Peter Asi is unavailable today, causing a reshuffle in the Bulls backrow. Jonny Limmer ( who had been slated for loose forward to replace Warrior Corey Lawrie ) will stay in the second row, alongside Ross Turi. Ross Martin, a centre last season, will pack down at loose forward.

"I'm quite looking forward to gauging how he goes against stiffer opposition than what he's had so far, but he looks very capable of handling it," said coach Stuart of Saunders who had no hesitation promoting his young winger to first grade.

Bulls coaching staff have gone for a blend of experience and promise throughout the backline combinations. Vice-captain Donny Aitken will be partnered by Tonga Mounga ( in only his second season of rugby league ) in the centres. The Bulls' most experienced wing, Lucas Tamakaha, will be on the opposite flank to Saunders and Boyd returns to Canterbury with a full Bartercard season under his belt to guide Tonihi. Papua New Guinea international Joseph Pombo returns at prop after his 2006 season was disrupted by a broken arm.

Stuart sees the Waitakere Rangers, the Tamaki Titans and the rapidly-improving Harbour league in the leading bracket and also has a healthy respect for the super-sized Counties Manukau Jetz.

But the 10-team Bartercard Cup has proved to be among the most consistently competitive of New Zealand sport's domestic national leagues. The Bulls will not be taking any opponent lightly. "Wellington will step up another notch or two with a lot of their Junior Kiwis now having another 12 months' Bartercard under their belts," Stuart said. "Northland, Waicoa Bay Stallions and Manawatu (Central Falcons) are good sides you can never really relax against."

The Bulls had a one-win one-loss record against Waitakere in last year's round-robin but beat the Rangers 26-20 in the semi-final. "They were a pretty big team, We had to play our best game to beat them." said Stuart.

Bulls: Layne Green, Lucas Tamakaha, Donny Aitken, Tonga Mounga, Mike Saunders, Darren Tonihi, Leon Boyd, Alex Timo, Shane Beyers (c), Joseph Pombo, Ross Turi, Jonny Limmer, Ross Martin. Interchange: Mikaere October, Nathan Cleaver, Matt Fitzgerald, Daniel Bain.

First-round draw:

Today: Central Falcons v Harbour League, Palmerston North; Northern Storm v Waicoa Bay Stallions, Whangarei; Waitakere Rangers v Canterbury Bulls, Auckland; Wellington Orcas v Tamaki Titans, Porirua.

Tomorrow: Auckland Lions v Counties Manukau Jets, Auckland.

courtesy The Press.