Auimatagi excited to blood youngsters against Vulcans
Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi sees Monday’s clash between a Canterbury selection and an Auckland Vulcans Under-21s combination as an ideal opportunity to blood some young players into the representative system, while also rewarding early-season club form.
The two big movers in the 2016 Massetti Cup, Northern Bulldogs and Hornby Panthers, are well represented with four players from each club in the 19-man squad for the Queen’s Birthday Weekend showdown at Canterbury Agricultural Park.
“Our selectors targeted a few clubs that have done well at the start of the competition,” Auimatagi says.
“There’s some younger guys that have been showing some potential featuring in the team this week.
Despite the club competition being in full swing, the squad has managed five training sessions together, while they will have a final captain’s run on Saturday.
“I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve seen at training. It’s always tough with club stuff still going on, not wanting to overload the guys.”
The likes of Phil Nati, John Lima and Roger Tafua were forced to withdraw from the initial 30-man squad, but there will still be a number of familiar faces, including representative stalwart Chris Bamford and 2015 Bulls debutants Gus Anderson and Isaac Misky.
Auimatagi indicated a strong showing in the red and black jumper – along with continuing to produce on the club scene – could see some of the newcomers take part in the Bulls’ NZRL Premiership campaign later in the season.
“(Nati, Lima and Tafua) have got experience so it would have been good to have them involved, particularly for the younger guys getting their first crack. But it’s an opportunity for these 19 players to show they’re up to competing with North Island opposition,” Auimatagi explains.
“I think it’s really important, with our eyes on the future and building down here in Canterbury. It’s not a Bulls side as such, but I think you’ll see some of these names feature, if not this year than over the next few years.
“It’s fairly exciting to see these guys get a crack. A few of them have been knocking on the door of rep footy for a season or two now, so definitely from this group I think we could see a few names in the Bulls squad around mid-June.”
Just as important as aiming up against high-quality opposition is the up-and-coming players’ initial exposure to the representative environment and mixing with rivals from other clubs, according to Auimatagi, who succeeded Darrell Coad as Canterbury coach this year.
“It’s an ideal opportunity to get them on board early and plug them into the Canterbury rep system, explain to them what we’re about. These guys have been targeted as potential Bulls representatives, even this season,” he says.
“It’s been good to see them connect with each other and build some combinations, and the team that’s coming down to play them will give them a good understanding of where they’re at as players and a chance to measure themselves.”
As for Canterbury’s opposition, Auimatagi is under no illusions as to the challenge they will present – particularly after the Vulcans outfit came away with a convincing 32-8 victory in the corresponding game last year at Crosbie Park.
Meanwhile, Akarana Falcons coach, and Auimatagi’s former New Zealand Residents teammate, Steve Buckingham will ensure the Vulcans Under-21s squad is well prepared.
“(Buckingham) is a pretty experienced footy player and he’s been coaching for a few years now since his retirement. He’s a pretty technical kind of guy and has a great understanding of the game,” Auimatagi says of his counterpart, who played two first-grade games for the Auckland Warriors in 1997.
“I’m sure he would’ve selected a fairly talented group, and a lot of those boys will no doubt be plugged in to the Warriors’ system up there and have some rep footy behind them.”
From a personal perspective, Auimatagi is excited about the first on-field step in his tenure at the helm of the Canterbury representative set-up.
“You’re honoured to be named as a representative coach, and always looking forward to seeing how your team measures up against other regional teams,” the Linwood Keas mentor says.
“You break away from club stuff and it’s refreshing to deal with some new players, and just to see the talent we’ve got across Canterbury and get them together and hopefully get them on that pathway.”
The Canterbury side squares off against Auckland Vulcans Under-21s at Canterbury Agricultural Park at 2pm on Monday, June 6. The main game will be preceded by an Under-18s clash between Linwood Keas and Papanui Tigers. [
1 Dene Grace (Hornby)
2 Callum Lawrie (Hornby)
3 Vinnie Paul (Aranui)
4 Tauvale Tauvale (Hornby)
5 Blake Thompson (Riccarton)
6 Tommy Belford (Northern)
7 Gus Anderson (Riccarton)
8 Caleb Tohovaka (Hornby)
9 Isaac Misky (Linwood)
10 Will Davis (Halswell)
11 Reuben Te Amo (Riccarton)
12 Chris Bamford (Linwood)
13 Michael Butson (Northern)
14 Nathan Saumalu (Papanui)
15 Kolio Vailu’u (Riccarton)
16 Lucuster (Saga) Mati (Northern)
17 Josh Ifopo (Afamasaga) (Aranui)
18 Anthony Tailua (Riccarton)
19 Tom Mansfield (Northern)
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE