Linwood Keas 2017 Preview
After surging to CRL grand final glory last year, Linwood Keas are aiming to become the first club since Hornby in 2012-13 to win back-to-back titles.
But Keas coach Andrew Auimatagi says that although taking out this year’s crown will be more difficult than last season’s success, motivation won’t be a problem for his side.
“I think every year teams get better, and it’s going to be a good challenge ahead to get back to that top spot,” the Canterbury Bulls rep coach said.
“The boys are really relishing that challenge and they’ve been working really hard. We’re just taking it week by week and trying to keep everyone fit and healthy.”
Linwood kicked off 2017 in fine style, winning the third annual Crosbies Nines competition in February.
An under-strength squad were unable to return from their trip to Greymouth with the Thacker Shield, but Auimatagi said it was a positive experience – especially for the newcomers blooded against the West Coast side.
“It was a good opportunity to get a taste of what’s required. We took a lot out of it even though we lost.”
The Keas have retained the bulk of their grand final-winning squad and welcome Eddie Enosa back from Celebration Lions, but veteran front-rower Chris Bamford and dynamic centre Matt Sauni are two notable losses.
The defending champs begin their campaign on Saturday against the Panthers in a rematch of last year’s decider.
Years active (premiers division): 1913-15, 1917-26, 1930-present
Titles: 11 – 1932, 1938, 1951, 1960-61, 1963, 1968, 1970, 2005, 2008, 2016
2017 coach: Andrew Auimatagi
Last season: 1st and premiers (won 11, lost 2, drew 1)
Pre-season: “The pre-season’s been a pretty positive one, we managed to get a few trial games under our belt, and also some success at Crosbie (Nines) and got over to the Coast for a bit of a development trip as well,” Andrew Auimatagi said.
Key gains: Eddie Enosa (Celebration), Ben McIvor (rugby union)
Key losses: Chris Bamford (NSW Country), Matt Sauni (Warriors), Rangi Thompson (Brisbane club competition)
2017 squad: “We’re looking for the guys that were involved last year to step it up after losing Chris (Bamford) and Matt (Sauni), two really experienced players, so I’m sure a few of the others will relish the chance to step up in terms of their leadership.”
2017 goals: “Our goals are all around backing up our defence from last year. The boys took a lot of pride in being the best defensive team, and that’s probably at the heart of our goals, to be the best defensive team again. And also to be there at the end, competing for that trophy.”
Round 1: v Hornby Panthers – 2.45pm @ Branston Park: “We should have most of our top-line players available. The trial on the weekend, a few guys had some niggles. It’s going to be a tough encounter, Hornby have recruited a couple of guys and bolstered their team. It’ll give us a good indication of where we are at the moment up against a quality team.”