Manawatu hope for Turbo-charged season

Yahoo!Xtra Sport / Neil Reid
Yahoo Sport

The Manawatu Turbos have set themselves a top 10 finish in the Air New Zealand Cup.

The Dave Rennie-coached green and whites kick-off their 2008 campaign against the might of Canterbury at AMI Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Manawatu Rugby Football Union chief executive Hadyn Smith revealed on Monday that sponsorship for the union had dropped off for this season.

Cash-flow was also set to be affected by an expected smaller than usual pay-out from the Hurricanes franchise.

But despite the funding reduction, Smith said hopes were high in the province.

That included an improvement on the competition ladder from last year.

"If we don't have substantial injuries, I think we can be in a position where we can get around the 10th position or better," Smith told Yahoo!Xtra.

"It is one of those things, you have to have targets. From the union's perspective, we were 12th last year, we would expect an improved position this year.

"We have to have improvements.

"Our two wins and a draw was a good level for last year. And I would suggest we probably need to have at least four wins to get ourselves in an advancing position.

"The purpose of all this is to ensure we are advancing, not treading water. The players are all aware of that and I suppose it is an aim of every union across the board, to do better than we did last year."

While Manawatu are approaching this season with high hopes, they do go into their opening match with a question mark over their future in New Zealand's top-flight provincial competition.

The soon-to-be-announced restructure of the Air New Zealand Cup is expected to axe at least two provinces.

The Turbos are one of the sides constantly linked as being at risk.

"It is probably strange for five or six unions," Smith conceded.

"The unions at risk I suppose are anyone in that bottom six. Depending on the criteria and how they are all tracking by way of finances, stadium, governance, management and all those things that count, there is at least three or four unions who are saying: 'We could be that one'.

"Human nature says, 'No, we won't'. But we have done the maths and we see ourselves ranking above our playing position of 12th.

"A cynical side of me says it may well be something else that comes into play that we haven't heard about yet. For example, if a host Super 14 union on the rankings came 13 or 14th, would they be dropped?"

Manawatu confirmed their 2008 Air New Zealand Cup squad on Tuesday.

It features three members of the New Zealand side which won the IRB Under-20 world championship, Aaron Smith, Andre Taylor and Kurt Baker.

New Zealand Sevens reps Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula will also wear the Turbo jersey this season.

But several pre-season injuries have stretched depth in the region.

"We have obvious areas where we haven't got any depth," Smith said.

"We are one injury away from having to get some serious loan support. It just depends on who gets injured.

"Certainly our starting 22 is as good as it's ever been.

"We have lost Lisiate Fa'aso which is pretty disappointing, we can't do much about that. He went off-shore for three months and broke his leg quite severely in England.

"And we have lost Bertus Mulder, Aiden Nicols the prop and Mike Rowe has retired.

"We have a few areas where we haven't got a lot of depth. That is something we have to work through as the season unfolds."

Manawatu Air New Zealand Cup squad: Kurt Baker, Aaron Cruden, Siosaia Fia, Francisco Bosch, Josh Bradnock, Francis Bryant, Nick Crosswell, Lote Raikabula, Paul Rodgers, Robbie Foreman, Aaron Good, Talau Hala, Hamish Gosling, Sean O'Connor, Johnny Leota, Tomasi Cama (Komainaua), Aaron James, Grant Polson, Adaam Ross, Andre Taylor, Doug Tietjens, David Te Moana, Hayden Triggs, Aaron Smith, James Goode, Matty James.