Linwood Keas head to Greymouth this weekend for an ideal tune-up ahead of their bid for a third straight CRL premiership – but the club also has a score to settle in the Thacker Shield clash with West Coast Chargers after becoming the first Canterbury team in two decades to surrender the trophy last year.

An under-strength Keas line-up was upset 28-22 by the Chargers during the 2017 pre-season – the first time since Cobden-Kohinoor beat Hornby 30-10 in 1997 that the Thacker Shield had remained on the West Coast.

“We’re looking forward to it, it’s going to be a big challenge,” Linwood’s dual premiership-winning coach Andrew Auimatagi said.

“Going on last year’s game, the Coast will provide a stern test for the boys.”

The hallowed prize was donated in 1913 by Dr Henry Thacker, who was instrumental in setting up Canterbury Rugby League a year earlier. Originally contested on a national basis – with Sydenham defeating North Shore in the inaugural 1913 match – the rules were later amended to make the Thacker Shield only contestable by South Island clubs, before becoming purely a symbol of Canterbury-West Coast club supremacy from the late-1920s.

Runanga become the first West Coast team to win the Thacker Shield in 1931, downing Addington at Monica Park. The clash lapsed during the 2000s but was reinvigorated in recent years, with Canterbury’s club champions taking on a West Coast representative combination.

Auimatagi cited the assignment at Greymouth’s Wingham Park as the perfect precursor to a premiership campaign, allowing the squad to bond off the paddock as well as getting the first genuine full-throttle hit-out of the year on it.

“To get away from Christchurch and play against a provincial rep team, the stakes are a lot higher and you’ve got a pretty historical trophy on the line,” he said.

“There’s a lot behind the game and the boys are really looking forward to it.”

The Keas have enjoyed a solid pre-season thus far, taking out the Crosbie Nines – defeating the Linwood rugby union side in the final – and producing a strong trial performance against last year’s grand final opponents, Hornby Panthers.

Auimatagi said his side still has some rough patches to smooth out before the season proper, however.

“We’re just looking for the combinations to keep building. We’ve got a couple of new faces in there, so keeping our standards high in all areas of the game.

“I think the main thing is having that time together to gel and know each other’s play. I was pretty happy after the Hornby trial, (but we’re) just looking to improve in terms of our attack.

“Our defence was really good so it’s a bit of attacking improvement we’re looking for.”

Linwood has retained the nucleus of its squad for 2018, but there have been some significant roster changes. Inspirational co-captain Aga Fiso has hung up the boots, teenaged centre Graeme Patu-Vaega’au has been signed by the Warriors’ Jersey Flegg (Under-20s) team, and winger Ben McIvor has moved to Canada.

But the Keas have picked up exciting rugby union winger/fullback Mark Burton, young hooker Tamati Reihana and Halswell winger Ben Ilalio, who was the Massetti Cup’s top try-scorer in 2017.

Further boosts will come in the form of rehabbing trio Daniel Hartley, Shane Bowden and Matt Sauni – who spent last season with the Warriors’ InTrust Super Premiership side – but they are not scheduled to return until the early rounds of the premiership.


West Coast Chargers v Linwood Keas – 2pm, Saturday, March 17 @ Wingham Park, Greymouth

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