Papanui Tigers 2017 Preview
Papanui broke a 17-year premiership drought under coach Shane Endacott in 2015, edging Linwood in an epic extra-time grand final.
But the Tigers fell a couple of notches short of those achievements last year in defending their title, finishing fourth before going down to Hornby in the preliminary final.
Endacott emphasised the challenges of backing up after scaling the peak of the CRL competition, but on the same token he wasn’t making any excuses for what he regards as a subpar campaign.
“It’s always difficult to win two in a row – if you look at the NRL over the last 20 years, no one’s managed to do it, so it’s a tough ask,” Endacott said.
“But last year was extremely disappointing. I believe, on paper, we probably had a better side than we had in the (grand) final the previous year.
“When you win a (grand) final, motivation is always difficult the second year. We had the side to at least make the (grand) final, but we didn’t quite make it.”
But if the Tigers are to rediscover the requisite hunger and reclaim their status as Canterbury’s top club, they must overcome some significant and unforeseen obstacles.
Papanui’s home ground is undergoing major maintenance, which has severely disrupted the Tigers’ pre-season training program and ensures they won’t play any home games until at least the second half of the 2017 season.
Endacott says the setbacks could have a crippling effect on the club’s bid for a 15th title.
“Personally I think we’re in for a slow start. Hopefully we’ll be targeting the second round and aiming for the top four, then you’re in with a chance.
“It will be a difficult season for us – we’ve got no home games for at least the first round, so we’re having to play at places like Canterbury Park and Bishopdale Park.
“It’s not going to be pretty.”
In the player roster department, the Tigers have lost a stack of experienced and classy players to retirement and Australian clubs, but have added Rockcote Canterbury Bulls star Paradise Mann and Auckland forward George Vuna, the older brother of former Warriors, Newcastle Knights and Wallabies star Cooper Vuna.
Endacott believes the Tigers will be giving up a sizeable head-start to the benchmark teams of 2016
“Realistically, Hornby and Linwood will be very strong again, and if I was a betting man that’s the grand final I’d be picking,” he said.
“But if we can make that third or fourth spot, anything can happen in the finals.
“If we don’t get too many injuries we’ll be there in the mix at the end, but (so far our preparation) has been pretty disappointing.”
Whether that’s a bit of gamesmanship from the wily mentor, or merely some frank honesty from a coach wary of the hurdles his team faces, there’s few clubs that will be taking Papanui lightly in 2017.
Years active (premiers division): 1947-present (formerly Waimari – 1922, 1925-30, 1935-41, 1945)
Titles: 14 – 1957, 1959, 1960, 1971-74, 1976-78, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2015
2017 Coach: Shane Endacott
Last season: Fourth and beaten preliminary finalists (won 8, lost 4, drew 2)
Pre-season: “To be honest, it’s been very average. We’ve got our ground getting dug up at the moment, so we haven’t had any trainings at Papanui this year. We’re now training at a rugby ground, and we have to train on Tuesday and Friday nights, which is not ideal.”
Key gains: Paradise Mann (Hornby), George Vuna (Otahuhu)
Key losses: Andre October (retired), Dan Moevao (Australia), Nathan Saumalu (Mackay Cutters), Mark Walsh, Anaru Donnelly
2017 Squad: “There’s quite a few that we’ve lost, but we’re quite happy with our signings. We’re hoping they’ll make a difference and bring a bit of experience. We’ve still got James (Wihongi), Izic Placid, John Tafua, Josh Ka and Jules Webley on board, so we’ve still got some very good players and we’ll field a fairly strong side. It’s more the depth I’m a bit worried about.”
2017 Goals: “We’ll try to make the top four. For a Papanui club that has struggled a bit over previous years, making the finals three years in a row would be a major achievement for us as a club.”
Round 1: v Celebration Lions – 2.45pm @ Canterbury Park: “We’re well underdone, and if we don’t turn up to play we could get our pants pulled down this weekend. Celebration are renowned for good starts – they beat Hornby last year in Round 1 – so they are giant-killers at the start of the season. And I think they’re in for a good year. They’ve got a lot of their older players back. It’s a really tough ask for us, and I think they will be going in as favourites purely because of our disrupted lead-up. We’ll be getting out there giving a hundred, but I think we’re in for a slow start.”