Northern Bulldogs 2017 Preview
After two straight wooden spoons and a winless 2015 campaign, Northern Bulldogs’ resurgence was the feelgood story of last year’s CRL premiership.
They went unbeaten through the first month of the competition, before injuries and a lack of depth caught up with first-year coach Te Hira Niha’s side. A top-four berth could well have been on the cards with a bit more luck falling their way, held to three draws in the first 11 rounds.
The Bulldogs are well-placed to improve on last year’s efforts, though they have experienced more player turnover than most.
Halfback Josh Reuben and his brother Kyle, their hooker, have retired, while fellow veteran Ross Turi has moved on. Northern’s 2016 captain, Tom Mansfield, and star back-rower Michael Butson are also unavailable for at least the first chunk of the campaign.
But the club has made a number of exciting signings, including new skipper Patella Tou, and English hooker Joseph Gay, while Niha expects several of his promising youngsters to make the step up to first grade.
“We’re trying to build off (last year), especially after having a few guys retire,” Niha said.
“It’s been a matter of replacing that experience and keeping the guys motivated.”
The club celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017, which also marks 10 years since the Bulldogs’ sole premiership triumph. Niha is hopeful his team is on track to return to those heady days after emerging from an incredibly tough period for the club in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.
“We haven’t played semi-final footy for a while so that would be an awesome achievement,” the coach said.
Years active (premiers division): 2010-present (formerly Kaiapoi – 1964-89, 2002-09)
Titles: None (Kaiapoi won 1 title – 2007)
2017 Coach: Te Hira Niha
Last season: 6th (3 wins, 8 losses, 3 draws)
Pre-season: We had an open trial in mid-February and had a good turnout there, and we had three trials at Aranui, Celebration and Papanui. So the preparation has been pretty good, we didn’t play in any of the Nines tournaments,” Niha said.
Key gains: Patella Tou (Aranui), Joseph Gay (Celebration)
Key losses: Ross Turi (Hornby), Josh Reuben (retired), Kyle Rebuen (retired)
2017 Squad: “Patella Tou is going to captain our side this year, he’s been really good leadership-wise. The guys have responded to him well. There’s also a couple of rugby boys that showed a lot of promise in the trials. We’ve picked up some good recruits – we’ve lost a few but we’ve also gained a few. A couple of the younger guys who made the development squad last year, Cameron Godfrey and Travis Pokai, they’ll be better this year for that experience.”
2017 Goals: “We definitely want to make the top four. It was within reach for us last season until about three games to go. We were either in the top four or close to it for most of the season, so we definitely want to be playing semi-finals this year.”
Round 1: v Halswell Hornets – 2.45pm @ Halswell Domain 2: “I’m expecting a good game out there, they’ve prepared well. I know (Halswell coach) Rob Faalilo well, he’s very competitive. Hopefully we’ve got good weather and we can put a good game of football on.”