Group 20 rugby league
YENDA'S preparations for the new Group 20 season have taken another blow with the departure of star playmaker David Rauluni forcing the club to find a brand new halves partnership.
Rauluni was set to join Shannon Rupapere in the key ball-handling roles but has left the Blueheelers to pursue work opportunities in Sydney.
Rupapere, as revealed by The Area News on Wednesday, has also exited the club to link up with Intrust Super Cup team Central Queensland, tearing apart one of the competition's most prolific halves combinations.
The Group 20 player of the year in 2009, Rauluni will be sorely missed by co-coach Roy Romeo, who must now go back to the drawing board and find a new pairing before the West Wyalong Knockout.
"The thing people don't realise about Junior is the off-the-ball stuff he would do," he said.
"He put a lot of effort into his defence and cleaned up a lot of stuff around the play-the-balls. He was just so good, he could turn a game, just individually.
"That's what we're going to miss - his spark.
"It comes a bit late, the timing isn't the best. But it could have been worse - it could have been just before the season started.
"We've got enough time to readjust."
But don't expect the Blueheelers to look outside their current squad for a solution.
The club has already signed highly-rated New Zealand teenager Dominique Richbell-Tekira, a flashy half who once represented his country in touch football.
The 18-year-old was set to be slowly eased into first-grade this year but could find himself thrown into the deep end sooner than anyone might have anticipated.
"He's pretty light on his feet, he can throw a good ball," Romeo said.
"Hopefully he can hold down a spot for us.
"It's left a bit of a hole but you get players coming in and out all the time, and you've got to find replacements.
"We're not going to go out and buy everyone.
"We've lost about six or seven players now but you can't just replace them all at once."
Those seven departures are Rauluni, Rupapere, Ben and Tom Warner, Anfo Leao-Seve, Ronnie Bamblett and James Dole.
But despite a few pre-season setbacks, Romeo is confident Yenda can still be a major player this year in Group 20.
"It makes it hard but they're the cards we've been dealt with," he said.
"We're pretty happy with our squad. We'll still be up there, don't worry.
"Once we sort out our halves and get settled we'll be looking a lot better."