East v West: More Than Just A Trial
This Saturday’s clash at Canterbury Park may not match the glitz and glamour of the NRL’s State of Origin showpiece, but the reinstated East v West game will lack nothing in the pride and passion departments.
Whereas the ‘State versus State, Mate versus Mate’ slogan has long been associated with Origin, the similarly emotive ‘Where Brothers Collide’ tagline adorns the shield presented to the winners of the East v West encounter.
Previously played from 2008-11 – with East notching a perfect 4-0 record against West – it is hoped the re-established representative fixture becomes a marquee Canterbury Rugby league event for many seasons to come.
The Steve Fenika-coach East side draw their players from the Linwood, Celebration, Northern and Aranui clubs (plus a player from Shirley Hawks), while Rob Faalilo’s West squad is made up of players from Hornby, Papanui, Riccarton and Halswell.
East v West will be preceded at Canterbury Park by a hotly-anticipated North v South women’s game.
READ: EAST v WEST SQUADS
Sol Smith, a Shirley Hawks junior who played at premier level for Eastern Suburbs and Celebration Lions, revealed a bit about how the genesis of the East v West idea evolved.
“The discussion began in the early-2000s on the ‘Rugby League in New Zealand’ website, which was kind of like the first rugby league discussion page in Canterbury,” Smith, a prominent rugby league administrator in more recent times, revealed.
“That’s where those ideas and concepts were first raised,” adding that Aranui Eagles stalwart Shane Asi was the chief protagonist behind the push for the new fixture.
“It was taking the concept of State of Origin – state versus state, mate versus mate.
“There was also a feeling amongst the Eastern clubs that there wasn’t a fair representation amongst the Canterbury team of that day.
“So the concept of East versus West was around putting the best against the best in Canterbury to see who was actually worthy of wearing the Canterbury Bulls jumper.”
The inaugural match was staged in 2008, with the John Rangihuna-coached East outfit taking down Dave Perkins’ West. The East line-up included the likes of Kasi and Kyle Leka, Josh Ka, Ross Turi, Chris Bamford, Kane Ferris and Phil Wahnig, while West fielded Shane Beyers, Shane Tamatea, Jonny Limmer and Craig Smith.
East repeated the dose under Maurice Emslie in 2009, with Kasi Leka and Sai Sakura bagging doubles in a 38-30 victory, despite a 14-point haul (two tries, three goals) from West’s Sean Scott.
East continued to dominate, making it four straight with wins in 2010 and ’11.
After falling behind 14-0 at halftime, East prevailed 26-18 at Rugby League Park in 2011 – the last East v West showdown to date – with Tama Walker, Dan Moevao and Paul Sauni figuring heavily in the comeback.
“It was what we thought at the time – the East had the stronger players,” staunch East-sider Smith said.
“From the East perspective, it was the opportunity for those players to show they deserved the merit we thought they should have.”
Rockcote Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi, who was forced to withdraw from the East team in the lead-up to the historic ’08 clash with injury, has vivid memories of the fixture.
“They were always great games to watch,” Auimatagi recalled.
“The level of play was high and the players really enjoyed playing, that’s what I remember from those days – pretty intense battles.”
Auimatagi said there is a buzz around the Canterbury Rugby League community about the reinstatement of the East v West game, and he expects to see a similar level of passion to those trail-blazing encounters.
“Talking to a few people, they’re really happy to see the fixture back.
“Also it’s a bit of a throwback to the Lion Red Cup when you had the East (Christchurch City) Shiners and the West (Canterbury) Cardinals, so it’s pretty cool there’s a bit of tradition associated with the game.
“I think a lot of guys … were pretty motivated to keep playing after their clubs missed out on finals.
“When they were named last week it would have sparked something in them. I’m really looking forward to seeing the quality of game on Saturday and I’m sure it will be an entertaining one.
“Even a few guys that I’ve named in the (19-man squad) for the Bulls are gutted they are not playing in this game, but they’ll get their chance to play the best of the East and West on the 2nd of September.”
From his standpoint as Rockcote Canterbury Bulls coach – and also helping oversee the development of rugby league talent in the region as a whole – Auimatagi is ecstatic the game is back on the calendar.
“I’m a big supporter of it,” the two-time Linwood premiership coach said.
“(After) losing the Canterbury Development team, it was really important to provide a bit of an opportunity for some of our older guys to play rep footy if they’re not involved with the Bulls.
“It allows us to give guys that opportunity and also leave some spots open for guys to play their way into the Bulls system as well.”
While he anticipates pride in the players’ respective sides of town to be the overriding factor when the teams do battle this weekend, Auimatagi says the selection trial element is still a key part of the East v West game as he ramps up the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls’ preparations for the upcoming NZRL National Premiership.
Four spots remain in the final Bulls squad after naming a preliminary 19-man squad last week.
“We named 30 or so players back in May, and the idea was to try and track some of those guys.
“The ones that missed out on the 19 from that initial wider squad, they’re featured in this game.
“It’s an opportunity for those guys to put their hand up and show us they really want to be there.”
The match also provides a chance for some of Canterbury’s young guns to show what they’re capable of in top company.
“There’s a few of those guys that are still eligible for Canterbury 19s, so there’s a lot of talent coming through in that 18-to-20-year-old bracket,” Auimatagi enthused.
“It’s good to see some of them featured in this game and I’m sure they’ll turn a few heads on Saturday.”
CANTERBURY PARK – SATURDAY, AUGUST 26
1pm – Women’s: North v South
2.45pm – Men’s: East v West
Also please note:
Attention Girls Aged between 12 – 18 years!!!
From 11am-12pm at Canterbury Agricultural Park some of the Canterbury Rugby League women’s team will be hosting a coaching clinic for any girls that are interested in learning new skills and about the game of rugby league.