The Wakatipu Premiers rugby team is boosted by the return of last season’s Captain Fantastic – who’d planned to quit.
In the 30-man squad announced last Saturday, colourful first-five Regan Pearce will lead the team again despite suggesting he’d pull the plug if they won the Central Otago title last year.
The Premiers not only took out the Central Otago title but also claimed and held the White Horse Cup and won the season-ending Otago Country-wide final.
“After deliberation with the wife I’ve been released for Thursday trainings and home games only,” Pearce says.
The 34-year-old, who recently caddied for world number one amateur golfer Lydia Ko at the NZ PGA Championship pro-am, jokes: “Lydia didn’t want to go pro so I have to play one more year of rugby.”
Pearce says he was also motivated by the return of loosie Dan Iosefo, who’ll also help coach the forwards.
Iosefo more recently played for Arrowtown but has a long career in the Wakatipu jersey and is keen to reach the 50-game mark that qualifies for a club jersey.
Another talented former Wakatipu loosie, Pita Wilson, is also returning.
Wilson has hit the headlines more for his off-field exploits in recent years, including being jailed for assault and threatening behavior. Prior to that in 2006, he survived being shot multiple times on the Gold Coast – allegedly by a motorcycle gang member.
Prior to his run-ins with the law, Wilson played for Southland, North Harbour and also dabbled in club rugby in Japan.
Premiers head coach Damian ‘Dippers’ Petre says: “To have his experience is going to be a huge asset.”
Former All Black star Justin Marshall is the third-string halfback – but only because he has to fit his playing commitments around TV commentating duties.
Marshall, 39, is also assistant backs coach.
“A few of the guys were pretty awe-struck to have him around last Thursday night,” Petre says.
Two prolific try-scoring backs last season, Danny King and Mark Te Whaiti, are returning though the latter will be out for a while with injury.
Petre says the team has good loose forward depth.
“To have the likes of Jake Lawrence and Henry Youngman, who can play both in the loose forwards and at lock, provides us with a lot of options.”
Petre’s also excited about the return of explosive loosie Toi Roberts.
Among newcomers, Tai Raumati and Argentinian Francisco Castro will be strong midfielders, Petre says.
New winger Rhys Collins is a brother of contracted Otago player Michael.
This season the club’s Wanderers team will also play in the Premiers competition.
In the final pre-season games last Saturday, the shadow Premiers side beat Ashburton’s Southern 28-12 and the shadow Wanderers narrowly lost to another Southern side.
Petre says the Wanderers’ performance “should put them in good stead to knock over a few key scalps during the season”.
Both Wakatipu sides start their season on April 6 with away games – the Premiers play Matakanui Combined and the Wanderers play Maniototo.
The Arrowtown Premiers are expected to announce their team soon.