Auimatagi reappointed as Rockcote Canterbury Bulls coach
Canterbury Rugby League has reappointed Andrew Auimatagi as head coach of the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
After guiding Canterbury A to two South Island championship titles, Auimatagi took over from Darrell Coad as the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls’ coach in 2016, with his side coming desperately close to qualifying for the final of the shortened 2016 NZRL National Premiership.
The Bulls finished equal at the top of the table with Akarana Falcons and Counties Manukau Stingrays with two wins from three games, but the southerners were pipped for a place in the decider on points differential.
A stirring come-from-behind win over eventual champions the Falcons in their final match at AMI Stadium was an obvious highlight for Auimatagi and his new-look Rockcote Canterbury Bulls squad.
He also coached Linwood to CRL grand final glory and snared a role as assistant coach of the New Zealand Residents side to complete a banner year for the former Keas and Bulls player.
“I’m pretty stoked to get the opportunity and I’m looking forward to the next few seasons with the Bulls,” Auimatagi says.
“We achieved some really great outcomes this year. Just missing out on the final this year was disappointing, but we definitely showed with that win against the Falcons that we could have been there.
“Having quite a few of the boys get an opportunity overseas with (NRL) feeder clubs and then two guys with the Warriors (InTrust Super Premiership team) is pretty awesome as well.”
Inevitably, the Bulls’ success and unearthing of talent has resulted in a player drain, with stars Matt Sauni and Tevin Arona joining the Warriors’ reserve-grade squad and other key men lured across the Tasman.
Although retooling his Canterbury squad again in 2017 carries with it inherent obstacles, Auimatagi sees it as an overwhelming positive – and he is convinced there is ample quality in the region to cover for those losses.
“We’ve got some great talent here in Canterbury. Losing five or six guys opens the door and I’m sure there’s the calibre out there to fill those spots,” he says.
“It’s an exciting challenge ahead, but there’s also a great opportunity for those young guys coming through.”
Auimatagi’s role as Rockcote Canterbury Bulls coach is far more extensive than merely selecting a Bulls squad and preparing them for a handful of matches each year.
He will work closely with coaches throughout the region and oversee a development and pathways program for Canterbury’s budding rep and club mentors.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with our up-and-coming rep coaches, and getting a development plan for coaching here in Canterbury,” Auimatagi enthuses.
“There’s probably been a great need for club coaches for some time, and also bringing that next crop of coaches through.
“That’s a big reason why I put my hand up again, to continue my work in that area.
“Developing people within our game – coaches, managers, trainers – I’m big on that as well, so I’m really looking forward to the plan that we’re looking to put in place for next season and beyond.”
Auimatagi believes a major part in cultivating a positive environment and culture within the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls squad is promoting a healthy football/life balance.
“Balancing everything out for those guys (is important). They’ve got a pretty extensive club commitment, and they’re non-professionals so they do have their own lives and families that they’re balancing.
“That was the key challenge, creating a program that supported them outside of footy. We were quite accommodating in that regard, not overloading the guys but also ramping it up when we needed to.
But Auimatagi’s own schedule looks set to remain just as hectic in 2017, confirming he will retain the coaching reins for Linwood’s CRL title defence.
“At this stage I’ll continue (with the Keas). The shortened nature of the National Premiership kind of allows for those coaches at rep level to do some club coaching.
“It also allows us to keep developing as coaches. Instead of being out of the game and observing from the sidelines (during the club competition), we can really nurture our skills.”
The ambitious coach’s marathon season concluded with an assistant’s gig with the New Zealand Residents team’s clash with New Zealand Maori XIII in Huntly in mid-October, confirming his desire to continue climbing up the national ranks.
“It was a great experience. I got reconnect with (NZ Residents and Counties Manukau head coach) Rod Ratu, who I worked with at New Zealand 18s level,” he reveals.
“It was just a really good eye-opener in terms of that next step above provincial level and seeing guys that are on the verge of cracking the NRL system.
“It was great to be a part of that and I learnt heaps.
“The Bulls players we took away, they gained massively from that as well.”
But Auimatagi’s focus is primarily on his vital role in the progress of rugby league in Canterbury, and he is ready to hit the ground running for what promises to be a bumper 2017 in the region.
“The code is really developing a good profile in the community and there’s some really cool initiatives happening.
“We’ve just got to keep building. We’ve got some really great people around, so we have to utilise everyone and keep moving in the right direction.”
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE