Celebration Lions 2017 Preview
A high turnover of experienced players has seen Celebration Lions slide down the ladder in recent years.
The 2014 grand finalists landed in fifth the following season, while the departure of Canterbury Bulls prop Chris Bamford, along with sabbaticals taken by the likes of Kyle Leka, Abraham Fonomoa and Francis Tuiletufuga, saw the Lions finish second-last in 2016 with just three wins.
But the team’s effort and commitment couldn’t be faulted – Celebration knocked over heavyweights Hornby in Round 1, and pushed defending champs Papanui desperately close in both regular-season encounters – and first-year coach Steve Fenika believes the club will reap the benefits of a character-building 2016 campaign.
“We lost a lot of experience last year with the boys taking a year off with work and that sort of stuff, and we blooded in a lot of young boys who were new to the premier level,” Fenika said.
“(We took) a lot of positives out of that, and the boys are a year better for it.”
The Lions will have to deal with another mini-exodus, with star back-rower Phil Nati plying his trade with InTrust Super Cup side Central Queensland Capras this year, Eddie Enosa returning to Linwood, and quality backs Jack Mundy and Jake Vincent taking a season off to address niggling injuries.
The big positive, however, is the return of Kasi Leka, Fonomoa and Tuiletufuga from a year off, along with a couple of other handy additions.
The Lions have a solid base of experience – headlined by co-captains Kyle Leka and John Lima – and kick off their bid to force their way back into the finals picture with a tough Round 1 assignment against Papanui on Saturday.
Years active (premiers division): 2004-present
Titles: 0 (runners-up in 2011 and 2014)
2017 Coach: Steve Fenika
Last season: 7th (3 wins, 10 losses, 1 draw)
Pre-season: “It’s been really positive. The boys are ready to go,” coach Steve Fenika said. “We had three good trials, as well as the Nines, and we did well in all of those so the boys are excited.”
Key gains: Kasi Leka (year off), Abraham Fonomoa (year off), Francis Tuiletufuga (year off), Tama Walker (Aranui), Teariki Tangiiti (Shirley)
Key losses: Phil Nati (CQ Capras), Eddie Enosa (Linwood), Jack Mundy (year off), Jake Vincent (year off)
2017 Squad: “Kyle Leka and John Lima will be our captains again this year, and we’ve still got experienced guys like Kane Ferris, Matt Molioo and Junior Salevao. Lupe Siaifa, he came up from the 18s last year, and he’s got a lot of promise and should have a big year this year.”
2017 Goals: “You always want to be playing in that big one at the end. But it’s just about us doing the little things right first, then hopefully we can get into the top four and it’s anyone’s from there.”
Round 1: v Papanui Tigers – 2.45pm @ Canterbury Park 1: “It’s always a good encounter against Papanui. We had two really close games last year and they won both. We’re just approaching it like every other game – focus on us, and what we need to do right, and hopefully we’ll get a result from there.”