The Northern Bulldogs have rapidly emerged as the biggest threat to Linwood and Hornby’s Massetti Cup dominance in 2018 – and leading the Kaiapoi-based club’s charge is one of the Keas’ favourite sons.

Part of Linwood’s 2016 premiership-winning side, veteran front-rower Chris Bamford returned to the Canterbury Rugby League scene this year after a season in Australia and has immediately helped turn the new-look Bulldogs into title contenders.

After several seasons near the foot of the ladder, Northern was one of the big improvers last year, finishing fifth and staying in playoffs contention until the latter rounds.

The addition of Chris Bamford and his brother, Bulldogs 2007 premiership hero Jason, along with Rockcote Canterbury Bulls half and Papanui Tigers grand final winner Izic Placid, has bolstered a talent-laden young squad that includes classy Rockcote Canterbury Bulls hooker Chase Kereama-Williams and dynamic fullback Nick Wain.

Seven-time CRL grand final coach Brent Ringdahl has taken the reins after 2017 coach Te Hira Niha moved to Auckland. Ringdahl and Bamford combined to lead Celebration to the 2014 decider.

The Bulldogs kicked off the season with a 42-30 win over Aranui and backed that up with a 32-16 defeat of Halswell in Round 2 before suffering their first loss of the season on a Saturday, a hard-fought 20-16 result to the Panthers at Murphy Park.

“I told the boys that Hornby would be the ones we had to beat – let’s measure ourselves against them,” Bamford said.

“We did well until the last 15 minutes, we sort of fell off the pace and Hornby stepped it up. It’s not the result we wanted but I’m sure the boys will learn from it.”

Bamford continued his remarkable tryscoring start to 2018 by barging over for the first four-pointer of the match, taking his tally to five after bagging doubles in the opening two rounds. But he realises further improvement will be needed from the team as a collective if the Bulldogs are to alter the competition’s balance of power.

“Hornby have been the benchmark with Linwood for the last 10 years. Linwood are going to be there again, it’s about who’s going to play them in the (grand) final, so Hornby were our measure,” the 34-year-old said.

“I suppose for a new-look side there’s some positive signs for us, and definitely some work-ons. To go within four points of Hornby I thought was pretty brave by my boys.”

Success has a habit of following Chris Bamford around.

He scored two tries in Linwood’s drought-breaking 2005 grand final triumph and was man of the match as the Keas saluted again in the 2008 decider.

During a stint with Bidgee Hurricanes in the NSW Riverina region, Bamford was named the Group 20 Player of the Year in 2012 and skippered NSW Country Bulls the following season.

Bamford returned to Christchurch in 2014 and guided the Lions to a grand final – where they lost to the Hornets – before rejoining the Keas in 2016 and starring in a third premiership success.

Then there’s stack of appearances for the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls – including a NZRL National Premiership win as captain in 2014 – and a handful of New Zealand Residents jumpers.

He was at it again last year during a one-season stay with NSW Group 10 outfit Orange CYMS, showcasing his trademark silky balls skills and ability to bust the line by laying on two tries in their thrilling 23-22 grand final victory over Oberon.

Bamford is confident his Midas touch can bring similar silverware to the Bulldogs.

“My brother (Jason) came out of retirement, he said the Bulldogs were struggling a little bit,” Bamford revealed.

“I’ve co-coached with ‘Jigsy’ (Ringdahl) at Celebration in the past and we had some success there, so they got me to the Bulldogs. Linwood didn’t need another Canterbury player, so I thought I’d help out another club.

“I feel like we’ve got something special here at the Bulldogs and that’s where I want to be heading – I want to be taking these boys to a grand final.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be thereabouts at the end of the season.”

Despite a superb start to 2018, the burly prop admits it gets tougher to haul his hulking frame through each passing season.

“It does, mate, conditioning is hard. I’ve definitely found myself struggling three games in but hopefully in another three games I’ll be match fit and it won’t be a drama.

“But I’ve got a job to do and the boys look up to me to do that job, so that keeps me honest too.”

Meanwhile, joining Northern is not another of Bamford’s Australian ‘gun for hire’ one-season missions. All going to plan, Bamford is set to take over from Ringdahl as the Bulldogs’ head coach next season.

But for now, Bamford’s focus is on entrenching the blue-and-whites in the Massetti Cup top four – as well as enjoying playing alongside Jason.

“It’s awesome to see him out there. He got injured again (against Hornby) but just to play a couple of games with my brother makes it all worth it.”

Photo Credit: Dai Roberts
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