Unbelievable talent has graced 1st XV teams in 2016, but the top 5 are something special. If NZ had a NBA style, college rugby draft ... who would be your 1st pick?
Brayden Iose (Palmerston North BHS) - Iose scored three tries in an early season fixture against Scots College capturing the attention of former All Black Captain Andy Leslie who warned "this boy is good, very good." Leslie's instincts proved correct. Iose was the captain of the Hurricanes U18's who thrashed the Crusaders 64-20 in the Term Two holidays. Iose's dynamic play and mature leadership eventually earned him the role of New Zealand Secondary Schools Captain. New Zealand was unbeaten for a third straight year accounting for Fiji (45-19) and Australia (32-22).
Ngani Punivai (Christ's College) - Christ's College was one of the most improved teams in New Zealand in 2016. For the first time in 13 years they captured the annual quadrangular title piping Wellington champions, Wellington College 24-19 in a thrilling final. For the first time since 2010, Christ's made the semi-finals of the UC Championship finishing the round robin at the top of the table. Punivai's leadership and versatility in the backline was a massive part of the team's success. Punivai scored 95 points in the UC Championship and earned selection for the New Zealand Schools. From fullback he scored four tries in two games in National colours.
Sione Havili (Auckland GS) - Havili has been a member of the Auckland GS First XV for three years where he plays loose forward and was captain of the side in 2016. He has started in 40 competition games and was selected for the Auckland and Blues U18 Representative teams. Further distinction was achieved when he was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools Team and was the recipient of the Bronze Boot Award, given to the best performing player in the Australia Test Match. This award has been won by All Blacks like Jeff Wilson, Jerry Collins and Ardie Savea.
Isaiah Papalii (Mount Albert GS) - The Warriors bound loose forward was named by Sky TV as the Land Rover First XVplayer of the year. The powerful and skilful back rower proved to be a match winner for MAGS. He scored tries in the Auckland final and National top four semis and final. Additionally in a top of the table round-robin fixture against Sacred Heart College he bagged a hat-trick. Papalii would almost certainly have been selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools had it not been for his league commitments.
Keanu Kereru-Symes (Hastings BHS) - Hastings BHS made the National Top Four final for the first time, winning 18 consecutive games along the way, including a first Super 8 title since 2004. The captaincy and scrummaging stability of Kereru-Symes was a major catalyst for Hastings’ success. Hastings scored more tries than any other major First XV in New Zealand and the 'follow me' graft of Kereru-Symes was a major factor in this. Kereru-Symes excellence was acknowledged when he was selected for the New Zealand Barbarians.
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