Waikato rookies to defend Shield

Getty Images     17 Jul 2013     Getty Images

Named to start in Waikato's Ranfurly Shield defence against Horowhenua-Kapiti, he is about to get a taste of what his latest career move has in store.

Although union is his first love it was a stint in rugby league that provided a young high school graduate with his first taste of success - two tries in the Warriors Under-20s grand final win over the Cowboys will always be a fond memory.

Now the 22-year-old has returned to his roots to chase an ITM Cup title in John Walters' new-look Waikato outfit. It's a familiar fit for the Hamilton Old Boys centre, but also a huge step up in class.

In 2010 Collier played alongside the likes of Christian Lealiifano, Henry Speight and Frank Halai during pre-season hit-outs, but as one of 11 uncapped rookies he is expected to 'scrap' for his spot in what is effectively a trial in Morrinsville on Wednesday.

Most of the squad, including Collier, is involved in the Walters-led Chiefs development programme and have been eyeing this game for seven months.

A convicting performance is expected when they come up against a side that finished last in the Heartland Championship.

It will also be the last hurrah for one of Waikato's favourite sons, former All Black halfback Brendon Leonard, who is set to depart New Zealand to take up a contract with Italian club Zebre.

But the focus will be on the performance of the new blood in Waikato's ranks as Walters looks to rebuild a side that was largely disappointing under Chris Gibbes last year.

Collier adds to a solid group of backs that boasts the likes of Jackson Willison, Tim Mikkelson, and Save Tokula. During his time at the Warriors he amassed over 450 points and will challenge Trent Renata and Wharenui Hawera for the goal-kicking duties.

"Obviously he[Collier] has got some physical attributes that are going to hold him in good stead for either code," Walters told Sportal.

"He's very conscientious and has worked very hard transitioning himself, especially in the post-contact stuff which is probably the biggest difference between league and rugby.

"He's got a very good aerial game; he's got a good awareness of space. He's got good agility; he's got a nice catch-pass and he's got a kicking game.

"All of those are the attributes that we figured we could mould into a good rugby player."

Standing at 1.90m tall and weighing 100kg Collier is an intimidating figure at wing or fullback and may be confined to those positions during the season with Tokula and Willison above him in the centre stocks.

Nevertheless he is confident. Training sessions with Dave Rennie for the Chiefs development, as well as games against Blues development and Tonga and Samoa's second string sides served as a good introduction to the step up from club level.

Collier admitted they 'don't know much' about their opponents this week, who are made up of locals that were hand-picked by coach Jared Tanira from an open trial.

A successful defence will see Waikato put the Shield back on the line against East Coast in Ruatoria just over a week later. That will be followed by pre-season matches, against North Harbour and Taranaki.

Their NPC campaign kicks off with a Ranfurly Shield defence against Northland at Waikato Stadium.

Waikato: Trent Renata, Semisi Masirewa, Dylan Collier, Joe Perawiti, Joe Webber, Wharenui Hawera, Brendon Leonard, Rory Grice, Jono Armstrong (c), Whetu Douglas, Romana Graham, Brian Alainu'uese, Fraser Armstrong, Vance Elliott, Latu Talakai.

Reserves: Hame Faiva, Johnny Tu'ungafasi, Chris Middleton, Josaan Levien, Jono Malo, Marnus Hanley, Glen Robertson.

Horowhenua-Kapiti: Rob Millar, Lolani Tuiavi'i, Dave Thompson, Garry Phelps, Darryl Saunders-May, James Forsythe, Tainui Brown, Grant Robson (c), Lennon Carrington, Willie Lander, John Worgan, Ryan Shelford, Robin Praat, Luka Gibb, Aaron Kearney.

Reserves: David White, Evan Bishop, James Karauria, Casey Watson, Rawiri Broughton, Sam Williams, Mason Pakau-Wallace.