Bulls’ Brigades’ Departures Create Opportunity For Rugby League Talent
Via The Press/stuff.co.nz
Club pride and Canterbury Bulls jerseys are on the line when the rugby league premiership kicks off for another season.
Canterbury have lost five New Zealand Residents representatives with Matt Sauni (Linwood) and Tevin Arona (Hornby) now part of the Warriors reserve grade squad and Phil Nati (Celebration), Chris Bamford (Linwood), and Nathan Saumalu (Papanui) playing in Australia.
They leave big boots to fill, but opportunities abound for new players to fill the breach.
“We’re looking for the guys that were involved last year to step it up after losing Chris and Matt, two really experienced players,” said Andrew Auimatagi, coach of 2016 premiership champions Linwood and the Canterbury Bulls.
“I’m sure a few of the others will relish the chance to step up in terms of their leadership.”
Linwood have added Eddie Enosa from Celebration and rugby union recruit Ben McIvor, but can still call on a seasoned core included Bulls representatives Alex Todd, Erwin and Paul Sauni and Agaese Fiso and the up and coming Jiordan Fidow-Kele.
The Keas have a tough first-up game against the Hornby Panthers, who have offset the loss of Arona, Paradise Mann (Papanui) and David Tongo Tongo (Melbourne) by signing former Bulls hard man Ross Turi from the Northern Bulldogs and ex-Bull Will Tafua after a season’s break.
The Panthers have retained Bulls backrowers James Baxendale and Corey Lawrie and back Dene Grace.
The Papanui Tigers were the 2015 champions – their first title in 17 years – and coach Shane Endacott said making the top-four for a third consecutive year would be “a major achievement” for a club that had “struggled a bit over previous years”.
Tigers stalwart Andre October has retired, Dan Moeavao and Saumalu are in Australia and New Zealand Maori rep Jaye Pukepuke has returned to Halswell.
But Endacott has signed Mann from Hornby and Aucklander George Vuna, brother of former NRL player Cooper Vuna and still has James [Wihongi], Izic Placic, John Tafua, Josh Ka and Jules Webley.
Papanui will play their first round games away from Papanui Domain which is being renovated and resown.
The Aranui Eagles will also be absent from their Wainoni Park heartland, but coach Christian Swift is hopeful of cracking the top four for the first time since 2012.
He has lost Tama Walker to Celebration, prop Patella Tou to the Bulldogs and 2016’s top try-scorer Kahi Tipene to the Riccarton Knights.
Captain Vinny Paul will move from the centres to the pack and Kolone Faalilo will be another key player while Swift has hailed Benjamin Houghton’s high workload.
Tipene will be a handy addition to the Riccarton Knights, who are rebuilding in 2017 after losing up to eight of last year’s starting team.
Zach Riley has joined from Papanui but the Knights have seen Chase Williams go to the Bulldogs and Jason Galland to Halswell, while goalkicking half Angus Anderson is in Wellington.
Riccarton stalwart Shane Tamatea has stepped down to coach the reserves in the Canterbury Cup after more than 300 first grade games.
The Celebration Lions welcome back Kasi Leka, Abraham Fonomoa and Francis Tuiletufuga after a year off and ex-Bulls scrumhalf Tama Walker has made the short journey from Aranui.
Coach Steve Fenika said the pre-season had been positive for the Lions, who will be captained by Kyle Leka and John Lima. With Kane Ferris, Matt Molioo and Junior Salevao still on board, Celebration should still be highly competitive.
The Northern Bulldogs have lost their three most experienced players with brothers Kyle and Josh Reuben retiring in the off-season and Turi joining Hornby.
Star backrower Michael Butson and captain Tom Mansfield will also miss the early part of the season.
But coach Te Hira Niha, who turned the Kaiapoi team around last year, is still shooting for a top-four place – 10 years after the Bulldogs’ sole premiership success and in their 60th year.
Tou had been “really good leadership wise” and hooker Joseph Gay has joined from Celebration.
Scrumhalf Sean Scott will bolster the Halswell Hornets’ backline and Pukepuke and Galland will provide much-needed experience as the 10-time champions seek to shed their wooden spoon tag.
“The pre-season’s been pretty good for us, one of the best we’ve had for a wee while,” Halswell coach Rob Faalilo said. “It’s about putting that together throughout the year.”
AT A GLANCE:
Titles: None (4 as Eastern Suburbs)
Coach: Christian Swift
Last season: 5th.
Key Gains: Clayton Waikato (Linwood).
Key Losses: Tama Walker (Celebration), Patella Tou (Northern), Kahi Tipene (Riccarton).
Coach: Steve Fenika.
Last season: 7th.
Key Gains: Kasi Leka, Abraham Fonomoa, Francis Tuiletufuga (year off), Tama Walker (Aranui), Teariki Tangiiti (Shirley).
Key Losses: Phil Nati (Central Queensland Capras), Eddie Enosa (Linwood), Jack Mundy, Jake Vincent (year off), Joseph Gay (Northern).
Coach: Rob Faalilo.
Last season: 8th.
Key Gains: Jaye Pukepuke (Papanui), Jason Galland (Riccarton), Sean Scott (year off).
Key Losses: None.
Coach: Jed Lawrie.
Last season: 2nd (beaten grand finalists).
Key Gains: Ross Turi (Northern), Will Tafua (year off).
Key Losses: Tevin Arona (Warriors), Paradise Mann (Papanui), David Tongo Tongo (Melbourne).
Coach: Andrew Auimatagi.
Last season: 1st (and grand final winners).
Key Gains: Enosa (Celebration), Ben McIvor (rugby union).
Key Losses: Chris Bamford (NSW Country), Matt Sauni (Warriors), Rangi Thompson (Brisbane club competition).
Titles: 0 (1 as Kaiapoi)
Coach: Te Hira Niha.
Last season: 6th.
Key Gains: Tou (Aranui), Gay (Celebration).
Key Losses: Turi (Hornby), Josh Reuben, Kyle Reuben (retired).
Coach: Shane Endacott.
Last season: Fourth.
Key Gains: Mann (Hornby), George Vuna (Otahuhu).
Key Losses: Jaye Pukepuke (Halswell), Andre October (retired), Nathan Saumalu (Mackay Cutters), Mark Walsh, Anaru Donnelly.
Coach: Sam Brown.
Key Gains: Tipene (Aranui), Zach Riley (Papanui).
Key Losses: Junior Maiava (family commitments), Chase Williams (Northern), Galland (Halswell), Angus Anderson (Wellington).
SATURDAY’S FIRST ROUND DRAW
All kickoffs 2.45pm
Aranui Eagles v Riccarton Knights, QEII Park.
Halswell Hornets v Northern Bulldogs, Halswell Domain.
Hornby Panthers v Linwood Keas, Branston Park.
Papanui Tigers v Celebration Lions, Canterbury Park.
*Information provided by Will Evans, Canterbury Rugby League.