Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Injuries have forced Central Falcons coach Peter Sixtus to re-shuffle his team for tomorrow's national league match against the Manurewa Marlins in Auckland.
Missing from the side which beat the Otahuhu Leopards, 42-24, in the Bartercard Cup second round on April 19 are Steven Forbes, Jason Kainuku, Sua Leota and possibly Mark Graham.
Despite the injury woes, Sixtus is confident the Falcons can still snare an elusive "away" victory.
"Against Manurewa, we are definitely in with a chance," he said. "Like us they are coming off a bye and they only topped Otahuhu by a few points in their opening round.
"For our players, winning in Auckland is only a mental thing. We just need to be positive, and a win up there will do wonders for the guys' frame of minds."
Winger Forbes is expected to be out for two weeks after injuring his groin playing for his Kia Ora club last weekend.
Club-mate and secondrower Sua Leota twisted his knee in the same match, but should return for the fourth round match against Marist Richmond at Fitzherbert Park on May 10.
Kainuku, a wing, is attending his sister's wedding in Christchurch, while hard-nosed prop Graham is battling to overcome a heel injury he picked up while doing weights in the gym.
While flying finishers Forbes and Kainuku will be missed, the absence of Leota and Graham will hurt most. Along with prop Jesse Royal, the latter pair were the Falcons' best against the Leopards, Leota impressing when he come off the bench.
If Graham doesn't recover, KeyWest's Peter Hapsell will start at prop. Linton's Shaun Plant, a training squad member, and Kia Ora's David Kahuroa will likely be on the bench.
Hapsell, a big, solid player in the same mould as Graham, has impressed in club play.
There has also been a change at hooker with the recall of the experienced Dean Wilson. After playing last year, this season the Hato Paora College teacher has been more involved as a trainer.
Wilson has played for Kia Ora in the club competition and should provide more speed out of dummy-half and will likely inter-change with stand-off Ben Hekenui throughout the match.
Central Falcons: Nathan Ngaru, Nakoma Coburn, Joe Te Vaga, Trevor Neal, Willie Live, Ben Hekenui, Daniel Cook, Wi Wharepapa, Dean Wilson, Mark Graham/Peter Hapsell, Jesse Royal, Lui Vete, Terry Clune. Reserves: Shaun Plant, Soni Kanavatoa, David Kahuroa, Mike Timoti.
Manawatu Rugby League will hold a Gala Day at Fitzherbert Park on Sunday for players seven and 15 years.