In 2018 reigning two-time premiers Linwood Keas are aiming to become the first club since Eastern Suburbs (1979-81) to achieve a Canterbury Rugby League grand final ‘three-peat’.

Keas coach Andrew Auimatagi is confident complacency and motivation won’t be a problem for his all-conquering side as they look to scale local rugby league’s peak once again.

“Every year’s a new year, and we definitely still reflect on last season, pick it apart and find new areas where we want to be better,” Auimatagi said.

“We’re embracing the challenge of continuing that success, and we’re continuing to work hard.

“We’ve got a pretty motivated group with some great leaders, so we’re just focusing on our training and improving across the board.”

Auimatagi accepts the fact the other seven clubs will be hell-bent on knocking the Keas off their perch as simply a by-product of what they’ve achieved to date.

“Every team wants to be the best they can, and part of that is beating the top-four sides,” he said.

“Everyone wants to make that top four first and foremost, and from there anything can happen.

“Teams may put a target on our backs, but we’ll just do our best to play at our best every week – that’s all we can do.”

Though the inspirational Aga Fiso hung up the boots after a fairytale farewell in last year’s grand final and Ben McIvor and Grahame Patu-Vaega’Au have moved on, Linwood has retained the bulk of its premiership-winning squad and made a few key additions.

Ben Ilalio, the Massetti Cup’s top tryscorer in 2017, comes across from Halswell, while Tamati Reihana and rugby union convert Mark Burton are set to play key roles.

“Mark’s got the skill-set to do really well as a fullback, centre or half, so I’m really excited to see how he goes in league,” Auimatagi enthused.

“Tamati spent a lot of time in Australia, he’s been in the Cronulla Sharks junior system. He’s traditionally a hooker, a smart young player who’s shown a lot of promise.”

That depth will come in handy with the likes of Daniel Hartley and Shane Bowden still on the comeback trail from injury. Auimatagi said the duo are rehabbing well.

Meanwhile, Matt Sauni returns after a year with the New Zealand Warriors’ reserve grade side and is expected to pull on the Keas jumper again once he recovers from a knee injury.

The Keas began their build-up to the Massetti Cup by taking out the Crosbie Nines and performing an emphatic recapture of the Thacker Shield, thumping the West Coast Chargers 66-20 in Greymouth last month.

But the campaign steps up several notches this Saturday when they head to the newly-reopened Leslie Park for a Round 1 showdown with Hornby Panthers, their grand final opponents in 2016-17.

After going down 38-12 to the Panthers n the opening round at Branston Park last year, Auimatagi is sure to have his team focused for a titanic first-up battle.


Years active (premiers division): 1913-15, 1917-26, 1930-present
Titles: 12 – 1932, 1938, 1951, 1960-61, 1963, 1968, 1970, 2005, 2008, 2016-17
2018 coach: Andrew Auimatagi
Last season: 1st and premiers (won 15, lost 2)

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