Canterbury Schools Primed For NZSST Campaign

Canterbury Schools Primed For NZSST Campaign

This Sunday two Canterbury teams make the pilgrimage up to Auckland for next week’s New Zealand Rugby League Secondary Schools Tournament – one looking to build on an impressive maiden campaign in the premier draw, the other embarking on a historic nudge at the development grade.

Rockcote Canterbury Bulls and Linwood Keas coach Andrew Auimatagi will mentor the St Thomas of Canterbury College team, while fellow local rugby league scene stalwart Te Wairau is guiding Haeata Community Campus’ first crusade north in the eight-team second-tier competition.

Both coaches are teachers at their respective schools – and they are similarly enthusiastic about the opportunities to impress and progress the tournaments provide their young players.

St Thomas of Canterbury reached the final of the development grade in 2014 and ’15, before coming a creditable 15th overall in their first year in top company – and Auimatagi is confident of pushing for a high-ranking finish this year.

“The boys had a successful rugby (union) season with the First XV winning the Plate, and they had a good win last weekend against Waimea so the boys are on a bit of a high,” Auimatagi said.

“Hopefully we can follow that up with some good performances next week.

“There’s quite a few (of last year’s team) involved, so they know what to expect up there which is a benefit.

“There’s a couple of guys that have come into the mix, like Jordan Riki and Seth Tauamiti, who couldn’t play last year. The boys are ready for it.”

St Thomas of Canterbury have been placed in Pool C with Mt Albert Grammar, who they start their campaign against on Monday, Westlake Boys in a game that will be streamed live on NZRL’s Facebook page on Tuesday morning, and Papatoetoe High.

“We’re really keen to have a good crack,” Auimatagi enthused.

“The draw is quite promising for us – we do have a large contingent of rep players, so these boys have been up to a few national tournaments and they’ve measured themselves against northern opposition and done pretty well.

“I think we could be aiming for the top four if we play to our potential.

“We’ve got Mt Albert first up, and that will be the big one for us.”

A St Thomas old boy, Auimatagi has worked at the school for seven years. He takes a great deal of pride in the progress the school’s rugby league program has made.

“It’s pretty cool. When I was here as a student we didn’t have much here in terms of rugby league, I think back then we only had a Year 7 and 8 team, and on occasion a senior team playing some fixtures.

“It’s just great to be part of it, and taking our team up for our fourth stint at nationals is pretty awesome, I never thought we’d be there.”

Auimatagi is also excited about Haeata’s watershed visit to nationals, and said his team will be cheering on the sideline when their schedule allows.

“We know a lot of their boys and also Te (Wairau). It’s always good to have some familiar faces up there, and I’m sure they’ll reciprocate and support us also.”

Auimatagi – who also coached the NZ 16s team in July – would have to rank among the busiest coaches in New Zealand rugby league, but Wairau is not far behind.

The former Aranui premiers coach assisted with the Eagles this season, while he is the coach of Southland Rams’ 2017 campaign and oversees Haeata Community Campus’ rugby league program, including coaching the Year 7-8 and Year 9-10 Junior XIII midweek school competition teams.

Wairau was heading north for the NZSST via Nelson, where his Rams side overwhelmed Tasman 48-14 in the Southern Zone Premier Competition on Saturday. It’s clear, however, that Haeata’s upcoming expedition will be a real highlight of the veteran coach’s packed schedule – and his charges are equally pumped.

“They’re excited for it. This is basically our legacy team, our very first team to go up there from Haeata,” Wairau said.

“We’ll have a couple of years in the development grade and we’ll see how we go. (Hopefully) we can step up after that.”

Haeata will feature in Pool F alongside Papakura High School, Onehunga High School and Francis Douglas Memorial College.

But rather than setting results-based goals, Wairau said establishing the team’s framework for future seasons was the main priority.

“We’ve just got to go through and set our game-plan up.

“They are a young team and we need to go through our game-plan to make sure they’re used to it, so over the next couple of years they can stay with that same game-plan.

“After the next couple of years, I’m pretty sure that next year we’ll be able to throw more stuff into our game-plan.”

Rugby league is an important part of Haeata Community Campus’ identity, helping create a strong connection with the local area – and the NZSST is a key touchstone in solidifying that link.

“(Rugby league) is a big part of the community so it’s about us having the teams available for these students,” Wairau explained.

“Nationals is great, especially for the students – they get to go up and see another level of rugby league, so it makes them want more.

“And the fact that there are pathways from that is awesome, so setting up our culture here at Haeata to boost our rugby league community and the school (is crucial).”


St Thomas of Canterbury (Premier Grade)

Round 1: v Mount Albert Grammar School – 1.15pm, Monday, September 4 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 2)

Round 2: v Westlake Boys – 10.00am, Tuesday, Septbemer 5 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 1). Streamed live on NZRL Facebook page

Round 3: Papatoetoe High School – 11.45am, Wednesday, September 6 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 3).

Haeata Community Campus (Development Grade)

Round 1: v Papakura High School – 2.45pm, Monday, September 4 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 6)

Round 2: v Onehunga High School – 11.45am, Tuesday, September 5 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 5)

Round 3: v Francis Douglas Memorial College – 11.45am, Wednesday, September 6 @ Bruce Pulman Park (Field 5)

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