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Tasman sevens coach hopes trio's NZ selection paves the way for more success

Tasman's Tone Ng Shiu, Trael Joass and Andrew Knewstubb have all shot into the limelight in Wellington as part of the ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Tasman's Tone Ng Shiu, Trael Joass and Andrew Knewstubb have all shot into the limelight in Wellington as part of the New Zealand sevens team.

The beauty of sevens is that door of opportunity will open for rugby players who may have found it locked in 15s.

Take Tasman for example.

Trael Joass, Tone Ng Shiu and Andrew Knewstubb are names not many followers of the sport would recognise outside of Tasman's catchment area of Nelson and Marlborough. But all of a sudden they will be playing for New Zealand at the Wellington Sevens, the dream of wearing the black jersey coming much sooner than each of them ever expected.

Joass has been in the Tasman Makos squad for the past two years and has made 11 appearances in the Mitre 10 Cup. But once the domestic season is done, the 24-year-old puts his rugby boots away, picks up the tool belt and heads to work as a builder.

But that could be about to change with the powerful second-five offered a full-time sevens contract for 2017, giving him the chance to travel the world as a professional rugby player.

Then there's Ng Shiu, 22, and Knewstubb, 21, who shifted to Nelson a few years back to push for future Tasman selection.

Ng Shiu, a hard-running lose forward from Auckland, made one sole appearance for the Makos in 2015, while Knewstubb, a fullback from Kapiti who sees his future at first-five, has represented Tasman at under-19 level.

Both players wore the Nelson Bays jersey in a lower tier South Island tournament last year and spent the winter battling away for their respective clubs, Wanderers and Kahurangi.

With Super Rugby contracts still a pipe dream for the trio, the 2016-17 summer was either going to consist of taking a break from sport or putting their hand up for Tasman sevens selection once again.

In hindsight they must be glad they chose the latter.

Following Tasman's best season in the short form of the game, winning the South Island championship for the first time and reaching the top eight in New Zealand, the trio were able to catch the eye of the All Blacks Sevens selectors.

Tasman men's coach Sam Gibbens said the New Zealand coaches approached him on day one of the national tournament, seeking further information on one of his players. By the morning of day two it was two players that they were interested in and then, by the conclusion of the tournament, there were three.

They were all invited to the training camp and, from there, ultimately forced their way into the squad for Wellington.

"They're great. All being from the same place has made it a bit easier for them," New Zealand coach Scott Waldrom said.

"They've got each other and they know each other pretty well, and they've certainly fitted in.

"The hardest thing for them is coming into a full time programme in which you're working every day and training every day, and it does take its toll on the body for the new guys. We've had to ease them off and be a little more lenient on what they do. They're being looked after, but they're certainly keen on doing everything."

Gibbens didn't have a fancy answer when quizzed about what changed this summer. He simply said he got the players in earlier in order to make them fitter and they have reaped the benefits.

When New Zealand assistant coach Tomasi Cama told him that Knewstubb was the fittest player in the camp, he knew his methods had worked.

He said commitment has been an issue in the past, with some players reluctant to play for a team that trains during the peak of the holiday period.

"A lot of guys want to go back to where they come from, back to family, and they didn't have time to commit to the programme. But that's something we can't control.

"We get guys come to the programme and then the hard work starts. The guys don't like doing fitness late in the season and some of them fall out after the two-week break because they over indulge at Christmas and New Year's Eve.

"But we did well this year and I'm looking at proposing a development programme early in the 15s club season so we can get a men's and women's group going and putting them through fitness testing so we know what to work with and we know who is committed."

With Joass, Ng Shiu and Knewstubb paving the way to Wellington, Gibbens hopes the days of struggling to find enough players willing to take part are over. 

Though it is still very much considered secondary to 15s, he thinks the mindset may soon change for some players who can now see an alternate route to the black jersey, even if they are club battlers.

Plus there's also the carrot of the Olympic Games, which 15s cannot provide.

"I would love to have more players. We only had a squad of 14 for the whole campaign and had no numbers from Blenheim, where I thought we'd have more from there.

"I hope for this year's campaign we see a lot of boys come in and give it a go because this is another pathway for players to get their name out."

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