SCOTT HAMMOND/Fairfax NZ
IN FRONT: Captain Andrew Goodman, middle, in action against Canterbury last season.
Tasman Makos rugby captain Andrew Goodman admits there's already plenty of excitment in the camp as the countdown continues towards this year's representative ITM Cup campaign.
First appointed captain in 2008, Goodman returns for his fourth year at the helm after spending the 2010 season in Japan. And after last year's disappointing record of two wins and eight losses, the experienced 29-year-old midfielder said that a balanced-looking squad and some big early clashes had everyone feeling upbeat about the season ahead.
Tasman's 2012 squad was revealed yesterday, including nine new faces from last year, with a season-opening home match against Canterbury and a likely Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki the following week providing plenty of hunger within the ranks.
"The good thing [about] the way the season's starting this year, I think the boys have really got that extra motivation with Canterbury at home first up and obviously the big carrot of the Ranfurly Shield sitting there, it's pretty exciting times," Goodman said.
"The boys are pretty keen down at the gym and at trainings and are putting a bit of extra work in, so it's good."
With 42 games under his belt, in which he has amassed a record 233 points, Goodman could expect to bring up his 50th cap for the province this season. However, his immediate focus was on helping develop the new squad into a significantly more effective and successful unit than last year.
The initial signs were encouraging, he said.
"I think it's pretty positive that there's quite a few boys back from last year. Hopefully, everyone's got a bit more experience and we can turn some of those close losses into wins.
"You know the level that's required [now]. I think that if we look at the Hawke's Bay game especially last year [which Tasman won 21-19], the intensity and passion that we played with for 80 minutes to get that win was a level that we need to be able to find week in, week out this year to make sure we have a good season."
The selection of experienced tight forwards, lock Filipo Levi and tighthead prop Campbell Johnstone, was significant.
"It's great that Filipo Levi and Campbell Johnstone are going to be up front in the tight five to give the boys a bit of experience."The few [four] games with Filipo last year, there was a big difference in the way the forward pack fronted up and having [Johnstone] in the front row as well is going to be huge."
Some exciting new backline talent, including former New Zealand sevens player Bryce Heem, accentuated Tasman's increased attacking potential.
"Yeah, there's a bit of speed out there for us, having Bryce Heem and Robbie [Malneek] in the best form of his career and guys like James Lowe and Mitchell [Scott] coming back again."
Meanwhile, Tasman's All Blacks prop Ben Franks has signed with Canterbury for the coming season. Tasman chief executive Andrew Flexman was philosophical about the decision.
"It is really not feasible for us to be contracting All Blacks at $60,000 when in all likelihood they will play very few, if any, games for us," he said.
One player is still to be added to the Tasman squad as cover for the injured Liam Square.