Bulls Backing Young Players To Step Up
TONY SMITH – The Press
Photo Credit: Kevin Clarke – CMG Sports
There is more than provincial pride at stake for the Canterbury Bulls rugby league team with New Zealand Residents jerseys and potential semi-professional contracts in sight in the National Provincial Premiership.
Five Bulls picked up deals with the Warriors reserve grade team or Australian clubs after last year’s tournament.
The new-look Bulls kick off their NPP season with a must-win home game against Counties Manukau at AMI Stadium on Sunday.
With just three round-robin games, coach Andrew Auimatagi is emphasising the need for a winning start.
He said the Bulls “learnt a lot from last year” when they missed out on the grand final on points differential despite winning their last game against the Auckland-based Akarana Falcons.
“We’re hoping to get ahead early in this competition.
“We’ll be throwing everything into this first home game, it’s really important.”
The Bulls’ first priority is to challenge for the Albert Baskerville Memorial Trophy title, but Auimatagi said individual incentives “definitely come into the equation”.
“A lot of them are still quite young and have great opportunities ahead of them.
“[New Zealand] Residents jerseys are up for grabs and a lot of NRL clubs will be watching this premiership.
“Players develop at different speeds. Corey [Canterbury’s Corey Lawrie, who played for the Warriors at 27] is a great example of that.”
The NPP looms as an ideal opportunity for the Bulls’ 21-year-old ball playing prop Jiordan Fidow-Kele to showcase his skills.
The former Canberra Raiders junior starred in the Canterbury premiership, winning Linwood’s player of the year award as they retained their title.
“We are hoping for big things from Jiordan,” said Auimatagi, who also coaches the Keas.
“He’s definitely set himself some goals of maybe pursuing a career in league.
“If he can carry on his club form, I’m sure he’s going to make a name for himself on the national stage.”
Bulls captain Alex Todd is confident Fidow-Kele can fill the void left by longtime Residents front rower Chris Bamford.
“He’s going unreal this year. His power and the ability to off-load the ball is just incredible.”
Auimatagi believes the Bulls have a “good mix” of experience and youth in the 2017 squad.
Teenage second rower or centre Texas Toleafoa is another with a big future while Papanui clubmates Jules Webley (loose forward) and Joshua Aileone (outside back) were once in the Cronulla Sharks’ junior system.
“It’s good to have every premier club represented for the first time in a while,” Auimatagi said.
“The boys have been really committed so far and have brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
The Bulls’ 2016 skipper James Baxendale, who is holidaying overseas, will miss the first two games but will be back for the third, against Akarana.
But Auimatagi said he still has sufficient experience on the pitch in Todd, New Zealand Residents back Erwin Sauni and his brother Paul, while Izic Placid, Tama Walker and Sean Scott were all “good, organisational type of halves”.
Auimatagi has worked with Counties coach Rod Ratu with national age-group teams and caught up with him at last week’s national secondary schools tournament “without giving too much away”.
“He’s at a similar stage with his zone in terms of bringing new players through. He’s pretty well regarded for developing talent, so I’m sure we’ll see a few new names on Sunday.”
AT A GLANCE
The 2017 Canterbury Bulls squad: Alex Todd, Erwin Sauni, Jiordan Fidow-Kele, Paul Sauni, Joseph Mika (Linwood Keas), James Baxendale, Jesse Rogers, Tauvale Tauvale, Dene Grace, Tyrone Arona, Damien Papuni, Sean Scott (Hornby Panthers), Izic Placid, Joshua Aileone, Jules Webley (Papanui Tigers), Blake Thompson, Reuben Te Amo (Riccarton Knights), Texas Toleafoa, Willie Davis, Ben Ilalio (Halswell Hornets), Chase Williams, (Northern Bulldogs), Vinnie Paul (Aranui Eagles), Tama Walker (Celebration Lions).
The Bulls’ NPP draw
Sunday Sept 17: v Counties, AMI Stadium, 2pm.
Sunday Sept 24: v Waikato, Hamilton, 2pm.
Saturday Sept 30: v Akarana, Auckland, 1.15pm.
Grand Final Day
Saturday October 7 at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.
4th in premiership v 1st in championship, 5.30pm.
Premiership grand final (1st v 2nd), 7.30pm.