CELEBRATION LIONS 2018 PREVIEW
Celebration Lions were the surprise packet of the 2017 Massetti Cup, reaching the finals for the first time in three years after winning eight and drawing one of their 14 regular-season fixtures.
The new-look squad ended their campaign with a gallant 32-24 loss to Papanui in an epic semi-final.
But Lions coach Steve Fenika shies away from the ‘overachiever’ tag and is aiming for a repeat performance in 2018 as the bare minimum.
“We had a really good year last year – I don’t think too many teams really gave us a chance – so it was good to make the finals,” Fenika said.
“But we still finished short of where we could have finished.
“(We’ve got) the same goals as every other team: to make the grand final and win it.”
The Lions have a number of gaps to fill after losing a host of key players from last year, however. Kane Ferris, John Lima and Matt Molioo are sitting out 2018 due to injury, Teariki Tangiiti, Kasi Leka and Junior Salevao have hung up the boots, and linchpin half Tama Walker has returned to the Eagles.
On the plus side, Jack Mundy and Jake Vincent have returned from a year off, and Fenika has high hopes for a clutch of promising youngsters, including Antonio Lemalu and Harold Kolose, who have been promoted from the Lions’ 18s side. Experienced campaigners like Kyle Leka also remain to help guide the youthful line-up.
“We’ve lost a few boys through injury and a few boys are taking the year off, but we’ve got a good young squad coming through,” Fenika said.
“It’s not so much rebuilding as blooding in the new players. I’m pretty confident we can still hit that top four.
“With a young squad it’s really refreshing to start these guys off on the journey in the right way.
“They’re willing to listen and learn, which is positive. They’re all ready to go.”
Meanwhile, Fenika pinpointed the area his side must improve to retain their top-four standing and potentially go deeper into the post-season: tightening up without the ball.
The coach believes the Lions gave away too many penalties last year, while they conceded as many points as they scored – 24.6 per game – during the Massetti Cup rounds.
“The main thing we need to work, which we’ve been doing for the last couple of years, is our discipline.
“We still seem to be giving team piggy-backs through our discipline, but I thought our match fitness was good last year – I thought we were one of the fittest teams in the competition.”
“We’ve prepared well, we’ve had a good pre-season, the boys are looking fit and ready to get into it.
“We’re just looking to focus on ourselves, do the little things right and look after our defence. We let too many points in last year so we’re looking to fix that up.”
Years active (premiers division): 2004-present
Titles: 0 (runners-up in 2011 and 2014)
Last season: 4th and beaten semi-finalists (8 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw)
2018 Coach: Steve Fenika