Photo: Aidan Morgan (Kings College)
Im always excited to see the new Year 11’s come up into the 1st XV level and really put themselves to the test. The reason I like it is because you see the players that catch onto that mental strength early and they see the games differently to others and that real mental strength is massive to any player. Coming up from U15’s into your 1st XV is no easy task and some players need that Year 11 time to mold their skills a bit more in 2nd XV and bloom in Year 12. This team I have selected is the players that I think have really made massive strides in 1st XV and for their teams. Just a note I had to cut out so many players that I wanted in there but just couldn’t fit and I had to make it a 23 man team or else I would have had a squad of 50 players.
The big boys up front I went with Tevita Pole who has had a massive year coming off the bench for Otago BHS. I like that he backs up for two massive Props and holds his own when he come onto the field. He has a pretty strong running game and he knows how to add his bulk into the rucks and making way for the ball to come clear. Darius Mafile’o is a huge runner and is the reason he was selected. He makes up so much ground on the run that he is someone I would give the ball to every time if I could. Komani Pa’asi and Tiaan Tauakipulu come out of the 1A and have had some really good moments this year. It is not the easiest thing to be a front rower and play in the 1A and a lot of Props get exposed in the 1A but they then will have a massive Year 12 Season as well so keep a watch out for them both. I really like the look of Valance Yates out of St Kentigern College who was originally an open side but has moved into Hooker and is now looking like a player of the future. He is obviously very fast with a very high work rate but has bulked up over this year and is starting to get bigger and better fit for the position. Sase Va’a has already made 2017 his 2nd year in 1st XV for Scots College and I thought that he has gotten better and I think could look to be one of the better ones coming through.
The No.1 Year 11 player in the country out of Rotorua BHS is Tuki Simpkins and he is
the guy you watch to keep an eye out for over the next two years. He is very big and very physical, stronger then most that are older then him, and his rugby IQ is at a very high level as well. I have put him in at Lock right now but over the next two years we could see him as a Luatua frame kind of kid because he very tall but really agile as well. Emil Crichton has made a name for himself in the 1st XV learning behind some of the best in the country and it’s paid off. He has made some big steps lifting his game around the defencive side of things as well making his work rate do the talking for him. He has a very good motor on him and has started a few times this year and really held his own so there are some good signs. On the bench Rocky Momosses out of Rugby League school St Pauls College in Auckland. I see him as a Blind Side in the future and he can give you that versatile game that you can fit him into a lot of different systems.
Every year it is hard to choose a loose forward trio for any team because we have so many good players in those positions and they are all inter-changeable. So this year I have nailed it down to these 4 players and I think I have it right this year. Leroy Ferguson from John McGlashan College has ripped up this year in his second year of 1st XV and with his huge frame has been running over and through countless tackles this year. Another boy eyeing up league to maybe follow his brother, Leroy could be one that rugby loses again because he a talent. Anton Sagner has really impressed me not just because of his talent but because for one he is German, it’s his first year of rugby in NZ, goes to Nelson College, starts, he’s Year 11 and he’s ripp’n dudes up as well. When I first saw him play I was thinking "This dude must have been playing men in Germany because his skill level is very high even by NZ standards". Big boy playing No.8 for Nelson College, can also fit in at Open Side and if it were me I would try bring him through as an Open Side, he was so good this year he trialed for the Crusaders U18. Vaiolini Ekuasi out of De La Salle College is strong, physical, fast, a leader and plays the game with passion. I love watching this dude run the ball and just put guys on their backs, he has great balance and his is attention sharp in finding his supporting runners. I get to see this dude live this weekend hopefully, Aleki Saili out of Southland BHS. I really like watching him because of his tough work rate and he cleans out bodies too for such a young player. He doesn’t shy away from any contact and protects himself well to be effective in tackles and to make things hard for the opposition.
Photo: Henry Williams (Napier BHS)
I have seen both Max Huges and Henry Williams play in person and thought they were just so advanced for their ages. I thought that Herny Williams was just a Year 12 who had figured things out and then I was told he was Year 11 and thought damn this dude has it figured out for a Year 11?!! Herny plays a great kicking game and he knows where everyone is on the field and where everyone should be so that Napier BHS can make ground. Herny has a very good command for his players and that is something I value a lot when I study players. Max is a player who just stay’s "LIT" for the full 70mins kind of like a Russell Westbrook of 1st XV Rugby. Explosive, dynamic, creative, unselfish and thats why he got a Crusaders U18 Trial as a Year 11. The pair of players from Kings HS Nathan Hastle and Giovanni Leituala are players of the future and Kings HS are in good hands. If you start hearing about Kings HS coming up and winning games just think of these two and they have done it even this year. Nathan I think will develop into a very tidy passer and with his attacking skills could open up some real be gaps for his forwards to take advantage of. Giovanni plays 1st 5/8 and is very very physical and one of the biggest hitters in the 1st XV. I think he brings not only defence but a passing game that can be enhanced when better midfield talent is around him.
For the midfield I couldn’t go past Jordan Thompson-Dunn who is just such a smart player and is always thinking on the run. With guys like Danny, Lincoln and Folau around him he’s getting some real good knowledge of how to play the game. Jordan is already a big kid and he can already command a back line and take them up the field. Next year it looks like he’ll be stepping into the 1st 5/8 position but for this team 2nd 5/8 is great. Now putting Jordan in there I had to team him up with Max Brown out of Otago BHS who has been a huge player for them and they have already seen what kind of future he’ll bring them. Max is such a smart player with great foot work and all that offencive talent that just over rides everyone else on the field. Dhynzel Pritchard was selected because of his role that he played at St Peters College this year. He was a winger that would move into 1st 5/8 on defence then shift back to wing on offence. Now that is not a comfortable role to play but he did it and did it well. His hard straight running is what got me because he wasn’t getting over powered or man handled and his head was always going forward with leg drive and everything. Next year he should move to 2nd 5/8 and I think we’ll see a much better player and more polished. Liam Wilson on the wing just gives you the speed, good hands, attacking force and the smarts to make this position dangerous. Liam in there with Jordan and Max works well and then Aidan Morgan the only Year 11 to be in the Blues U18 at Fullback. Aidan is a very smart players who works really hard covering the back field and does lock into kicks and then closing in on them fast, he is very safe with defences coming at him and also taking high kicks. He also adds a very good attacking option where he can come into the line and then either draw attention or take the ball through a gap. Those are the same reasons why I think Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens from Francis Douglas fits this team well and also he can cover 1st 5/8 which he has done all this year. Jacob brings a very slow kind of game but his foot work is so fast that he gets out of situations really well then finds the open man too.
Photo: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Francis Douglas MC)
1. Tevita Pole (Otago BHS)
2. Valance Yates (St Kentigern College)(2nd Picture)
3. Darius Mafile’o (Palmerston North BHS)
4. Tuki Simpkins (Rotorua BHS) (C)
5. Emil Crichton (Hastings BHS)
6. Leroy Ferguson (John McGlashan College)
7. Anton Segner (Nelson College)
8. Vaiolini Ekuasi (De La Salle)
9. Max Hughes (Christchurch BHS)
10. Henry Williams (Napier BHS)
11. Liam Wilson Fullback (Hamilton BHS)
12. Jordan Thompson-Dunn (Hastings BHS)
13. Max Brown (Otago BHS)
14. Dhynzel Pritchard (St Peters College)
15. Aidan Morgan (Kings College)(VC)
16. Sase Va’a (Scots College)
17. Komani Pa’asi (Kings College)
18. Tiaan Tauakipulu (St Kentigern College)
19. Rocky Momoesea (St Pauls College)
20. Aleki Saili (Southland BHS)
21. Nathan Hastie (Kings HS)
22. Giovanni Leituala (King HS)
23. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Francis Douglas MC)