Auimatagi Satisfied With Rebuilding Campaign
Via The Press – By Tony Smith
Photo Creidt: Kai Schwoerer
Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi supports the concept of a new semi-pro domestic rugby league competition and would like the Bulls to be part of the action.
The Auckland Rugby League want to acquire a majority interest in the Warriors and also set up a season-long competition similar to the once-popular former Lion Red Cup and Bartercard Cup formats.
ARL chairman Cameron McGregor told Stuff last week they wanted to rejuvenate the Warriors and the domestic game.
McGregor talked about having a semi-pro competition to provide a pathway for Auckland players, saying over 500 had left for Australia in recent years.
He said it would provide a stepping stone for players to advance to the Warriors.
“So instead of having one halfback and stand off running around in the reserve grade, they’d have possibly 10 halfbacks and stand offs running around in a competition below them.”
Auimatagi hopes it would be a national competition modelled on the Bartercard Cup.
“I played in the Bartercard Cup and I saw first-hand the benefit of having a competition like that.
“Not only does it strengthen the domestic game, it gives players an opportunity to be showcased on the national stage.
“It definitely helped establish the Canterbury Bulls brand right across the country.”
Auimatagi said some people “may well argue that it will keep players out of the club scene”, but he was in full support because it would strengthen the game and provide pathways for players.
“It’s something that needs to be discussed further.”
He would like to see the Bulls involved.
“If you look at the history of the Bartercard Cup and across the provincial competitions, I think the Bulls naturally belong in a competition like this.”
The Bulls finished third in this season’s National Provincial Premiership – a four-team competition comprising three round-robin games followed by a grand final between the top two teams.
Canterbury missed out on the grand final on points differential for the second successive year.
While Auimatagi was disappointed not to get to the gold medal game, he was “pretty happy overall” with the progress made by his new players in a rebuilding year.
“If we had made that final we would have definitely exceeded a lot of expectations with the number of debutants we had and the new-look compared to last year.”
The Bulls lost six of last year’s squad – five of them New Zealand Residents internationals – to semi-pro contracts in Australia.
Captain James Baxendale (overseas holiday), senior prop Alex Todd (broken hand), front rower Jiordan Fidow-Kele (injuries) and New Zealand Residents fullback Erwin Sauni (work commitments) also missed some matches.
But Auimatagi was pleased with some understudies.
“I thought [forward] Reuben Te Amo, who I coached back in 2015 in the Canterbury Development team after he came over from rugby, did exceptionally well, he was one of the big finds of the competition.
Hooker Chase Kereama-Williams was “in the same boat”, impressing with his dummy half darts.
Loose forward Jules Webley missed the first game but stood out thereafter with his workrate and showed he could handle representative football.
Auimatagi also felt teenage wing Josh Aileone, who scored three tries in two games, could “have a big future” if he can avoid injury.
Blake Thompson, who had one match on the wing against Wellington last year, played all three games at centre in 2017.
“He was rock solid on defence and I thought he looked dangerous on attack. He had a strong campaign,” Auimatagi said.
Schoolboy forward Seth Tauamiti made his Bulls debut off the bench in last Saturday’s 32-20 loss to the Akarana Falcons and “really impressed” Auimatagi.
“He’s got a big future, I think that will definitely be the last we will see of him,” Auimatagi said of the teenager who has signed for the Junior Warriors.
Second rower Texas Toleafoa was another “player of the potential who’s still learning the game”.