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Waikato aim to extend Mooloo glory

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Sportal.co.nz     07 Aug 2012     Getty Images

While Waikato's Super Rugby franchise got the party started with its first winning season, Gibbes has his eye on joining the festivities with the province's third national title - the first since 2006.

Having tripped at the final hurdle twice - losing the 2010 & 2011 grand finals - the Mooloo coach tasked his men with breaking the hoodoo to complete the region's dominance in 2012.

"It's a really good challenge for our guys, they'll be really keen to continue on our success in terms of what we've been able to achieve in the last year and really drive to take it that one step further," he said.

Coming into this season, Gibbes said there was a sense of unfinished business.

"We didn’t leave everything out there [the final] and we didn't play the way we wanted to, but we'll take the learnings from that and we'll bank that."

With just three days of preparation, Gibbes and assistant coach Scott McLeod got the preseason squad off to a positive start with a 29-21 win over Hawkes Bay, which uncovered some potential bolters to watch this season.

Given 40 minutes to impress, bullocking prop Loni Uhila needed just six to score twice and seal the match while first-five-eighth Sam Chirstie made his appeal with a solo try and some deft touches in the playmaking role.

Not a bad headache for Gibbes to have before he welcomes back nine Super Rugby champions from the Chiefs and Jack Lam from the Hurricanes.

Alex Bradley, Romana Graham, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brendan Leonard, Liam Messam, Declan O'Donnell, Toby Smith and Jackson Willison will join the team on August 19 while injured All Black Richard Kahui is expected play at some stage.

Waikato open their campaign against North Harbour on August 26, a match Gibbes said he needs to win for his own sake.

"I've got some not very good memories of a toweling we got against North Harbour on a Sunday afternoon [a tough fourth round defeat in 2008]."

"We're going to have to be on our game, I know that those boys up there they'll be hitting into it."

It doesn't get any easier for Gibbes and his men with Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury and Wellington awaiting them in the following rounds.

"Every game in this competition is a challenge, every game's going to be tough and if we aren't on our song, we won't be in the playoffs."

Waikato continues its pre-season against Taranaki at New Plymouth Boys' High School on August 10, then Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe on August 15.