The 2019 Chiefs squad announced today won’t need to look far for inspiration when pulling on the jersey next season.
Star prop Angus Ta’avao was called into the 2018 squad as an injury replacement, but through hard work and perseverance, the Taranaki co-captain and former Waratah became an integral member of the team. By September he was donning the All Blacks jersey in his test debut against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
“It’s an inspiring story for all our players – one of don’t ever give up on your dream,” Gallagher Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper said when naming his squad for the Investec Super Rugby competition.
“Angus is a great person and a hard-working player and should be an inspiration to all these young men who have been named today.”
Ta’avao is one of eight All Blacks announced in the Chiefs squad, joining fellow one-cap All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, and experienced All Blacks Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown, Nathan Harris and Nepo Laulala in a squad that boasts a fine balance of experience, youth, speed, strength and skill.
New Chiefs signing, Taranaki prop Reuben O’Neill, who has been named in the All Blacks’ wider squad for the Japanese leg of the end-of-year tour, will also bring international experience into the Super Rugby season, as will Māori All Blacks players Shaun Stevenson, Mitchell Karpik and Brad Weber.
O’Neill is one of four players who will hope to make their Super Rugby debuts in 2019, joining exciting All Blacks Sevens speedster Etene Nanai-Seturo, promising New Zealand U20s lock Laghlan McWhannell, and Tongan-born Japan international winger Ataata Moeakiola in the Gallagher Chiefs squad.
Another two players, who already have Super Rugby experience, are new to the squad – former Melbourne Rebels utility back Jack Debreczeni, who was with Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup, and Samoa age-group representative midfielder Tumua Manu, who has played for the Blues and performed well for Auckland this season.
Like Ta’avao, midfielder Bailyn Sullivan, loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula, and outside back Sean Wainui all impressed as injury replacements last season and have been rewarded with contracts for 2019.
Cooper, who heads a settled coaching lineup of assistants Neil Barnes, Tabai Matson, Andrew Strawbridge and Nick White, said he was thrilled with a squad that features 26 players from the Chiefs’ provincial unions of Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, and 31 players who were with the side in 2018.
“It’s a very exciting squad, and it’s great to have a good spread of players from throughout the Chiefs region. We’ve retained a lot of players from this year, including a number of our core leadership group, we’ve brought in a group of exciting and talented new players, and some of our injured players are returning, such as Atu Moli, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Mitchell Brown and Fin Hoeata, who will all make a big contribution and add a lot of depth,” Cooper said.
“That continuity of players working with a settled second-year coaching group is really important in helping us take another step forward in 2019.”
Cooper congratulated and welcomed the new players to the squad and said the coaching group were eager to get started.
“It’s a great environment here and we’re looking forward to bringing the new players into this group, where they will be looked after in a hard-working environment,” he said.
“We want to make sure everyone is on the waka and paddling in the same direction. If we get that right, the performances will come.”
The Gallagher Chiefs begin their 2019 Super Rugby season with a home game against the Highlanders on Friday, 15 February at FMG Stadium Waikato.
2019 Chiefs squad
Kane Hames (Tasman)
Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty)
Reuben O’Neill (Taranaki)
Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau)
Atu Moli (Waikato)
Sosefo Kautai (Waikato)
Angus Ta’avao (Taranaki)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty)
Liam Polwart (Bay of Plenty)
Samisoni Taukei’aho (Waikato)
Brodie Retallick (Hawke’s Bay)
Tyler Ardron (Bay of Plenty)
Laghlan McWhannell (Waikato)
Michael Allardice (Hawke’s Bay)
Fin Hoeata (Taranaki)
Mitchell Brown (Taranaki)
Taleni Seu (Auckland)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty)
Mitchell Karpik (Bay of Plenty)
Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki)
Luke Jacobson (Waikato)
Pita Gus Sowakula (Taranaki)
Brad Weber (Hawke’s Bay)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki)
Jonathan Taumateine (Counties Manukau)
Damian McKenzie (Waikato)
Tiaan Falcon (Hawke’s Bay)
Jack Debreczeni (Northland)
Alex Nankivell (Tasman)
Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato)
Tumua Manu (Auckland)
Bailyn Sullivan (Waikato)
Solomon Alaimalo (Tasman)
Sean Wainui (Taranaki)
Ataata Moeakiola (Japan)
Etene Nanai-Seturo (Counties Manukau)
Shaun Stevenson (North Harbour)
Marty McKenzie (Taranaki)