Not long, until this year's draw will be announced.
After the news of Tiaan Falcon's long-term injury, which may see him miss the beginning (if not all) of the 2019 season, I decided to have a look at what has - until now - been published about player signings, either by the HBRU or in the HBT.
Let me start with repeating what HBRU CEO Jay Campbell said (according to the HBT on 25 October): "he believed all of this season's squad would be available next season but it would be up to Ozich and Syms who they wanted".
Not sure whether this is really the case, or wishfull thinking. Players may move on after missing out on an SR contract, taking other opportunities (e.g., JJ Taulagi in France). We also know from previous seasons that usually the majority of imports doesn't stick around. Of course, that may be different this year.
Anyway, I've checked my notes on signings, and this is my list:
2018 squad - contract status
Joe Apikotoa (TH)
Mark Braidwood (LH)
Tim Farrell (LH)
Jason Long (LH, also hooker)
Ben May (TH) - signed
Pouri Rakete-Stones (TH)
Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe - don't know whether he's signed on the same terms as the other former Hastings 1st XV national champs
Ash Dixon - signed
Kianu Kereru Symes (also prop) - signed
Michael Allardice - ? (SR contract expires 2019)
Geoff Cridge (also 6)
Tom Parsons - signed
Brodie Retallick - signed (but with ABs)
Gareth Evans (8, also 7) - ? (SR contract expires 2020/ ABs unlikely but possible)
Devan Flanders (6/8) - signed
Solomone Funaki (7)
Josh Kaifa (7)
Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (6/8) - ? (SR contract expires 2020)
Fa'alemiga Selesele (7)
Will Tremain (7)
Folau Fakatava - signed
Brad Weber - ? (SR contract expires 2020)
Tiaan Falcon - signed (but when will he return from injury?)
Lincoln McClutchie - signed
Pasqualle Dunn (12) - off contract
Sasa Tofilau (12)
Shae Tucker (13)
Michael Buckley (wing)
Mason Emerson (wing) - off contract
Jonah Lowe (wing, also 13) - off contract
JJ Taulagi (fullback, wing) -
Danny Toala (fullback, also 12) - signed
Stacey Ili (utility back: 13, also 10)
Richard Buckman (utility back) - signed
Israel Dagg (fullback, wing) - signed
Sam McNicol (wing, fullback) - signed? (expected to return from injury)
Liam Udy-Johns (no.8) - academy contract (the only one I know about)
- I expect that those players whose contracts expire in 2020 (or later) will have a Magpies contract for 2019, too, but it hasn't been published as far as I know.
- If they'll indeed play for us this year, it will most likely be the last Magpies' season for Richard Buckman and Israel Dagg. I also expect this to be the final season for Ash Dixon and Ben May.
- It also wouldn't surprise me if Michael Allardice is going to try his luck overseas after this year's SR season.
So, who's on your must-sign list? Where are the biggest gaps? Who do you definitely not want to be re-signed?
Obviously, Jonah Lowe, Mason Emerson, Tim Farrell and Geoff Cridge are the must-signs for me. Josh Kaifa was handy, too. Youngsters such as Tavita-Metcalfe, Devery and Tremain need to be developed further, so I'd also like them re-signed. I'm inclined to say the same about Rakete-Stones. I'm not sure what went wrong for him in 2018; he didn't get many opportunities and I don't know why (I'm not sold on Apikotoa). Considering the overall shortage of good locks, I hope Allardice stays as well (even though I'm not his biggest fan, there aren't that many others to chose from).
My major wish is to sign another good 10, with Falcon possibly out for the season (or at least the start of it). Ili at 10 was a disaster, and I can't see Dagg play there. McClutchie really needs to learn how to kick at goal. Toala can do the goalkicking, maybe Dagg, but for game management at 10 we're just "too light" if Falcon is out for most or all of the season.
They had enough game time, but Power and Tofilau didn't convince me. If Bucky is back this season, we don't need Tofilau.
For the future, I wonder whether Napier Boys' Tyrone (2) and Leo (13) Thompson indeed ended up in another province, or not; I'd like them on an academy contract.