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Tasman Tasman keen to build on ITM Cup final appearance

Taranaki and Tasman set the bar high in the ITM Cup, while Canterbury will look to bounce back from their semi-final loss in 2014.

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Last year's ITM Cup runners-up Tasman are looking to go one better in 2015, with club boss Tony Lewis optimistic of a bright future.

Tasman ended Canterbury's bid for a seventh consecutive title in the New Zealand rugby union competition in the semi-finals in 2014, only to then be edged 36-32 by Taranaki in the decider.

Lewis said the South Island-based outfit are dreaming big under the guidance of long-term coach Kieran Keane, who took over the reins in 2009.

"When I took over [in 2013], Kieran said he had 15 good players and last year we wanted to increase the strength off the bench, and I think we did," Lewis told stuff.co.nz.

"I think we've gone a step further this year. The idea is, we've created something special that people want to be a part of and I think that's quite exciting.

"Kids want to be Makos [Tasman players], they want to get that jumper on, so the generation change that I see from a whole community perspective is that they want to be Makos players."

Taranaki's pre-season ended on a low, the champions blowing a 24-point lead to lose to second-tier Hawke's Bay on Saturday - but coach Colin Cooper stressed he was unconcerned at the result, ahead of their title defence beginning against demoted Wellington in New Plymouth on Saturday.

Canterbury begin their path to redemption from their first failure to win the title since 2007, when they take on Otago in Dunedin.

Manawatu open their promotion season in the Premiership division against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.

Other week one fixtures see Southland and Auckland go head-to-head, Bay of Plenty will look to bounce back after finishing bottom of the Championship - the second tier - when they tackle North Harbour, while Hawke's Bay and Northland do battle.

Hawke's Bay will be boosted by the addition of Zac Guildford, the 11-cap international with New Zealand opting to sign with the ITM Cup side over the Waratahs.

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