NORTHERN BULLDOGS 2018 SEASON PREVIEW
If there’s any team that is making the perennial Canterbury Rugby League premiership contenders look over their shoulders in 2018, it is surely Northern Bulldogs.
After bouncing back from consecutive wooden spoons in 2014-15 and just three wins in 2016 with a vastly improved campaign last year, the Bulldogs have made several massive signings and have acquired the service of one of the region’s most experienced and successful coaches.
Under first-year coach Te Hira Niha, Northern was in the playoffs mix until fading out in the latter rounds. But the Bulldogs still finished fifth with a respectable 5-9 record.
Niha recently moved to Auckland for a job opportunity – but the club has landed on its feet by securing Brent Ringdahl as coach for the year.
Ringdahl led Papanui, Riccarton, Hornby and Celebration to seven grand finals between 1997 and 2014, winning four premierships with the Tigers (1998), Knights (2002 and ’04) and Panthers (2006). He is excited about getting back into the head coaching caper but insists it’s a one-off with the Bulldogs.
“I’ve got Chris Bamford, who’s like an assistant coach and he’ll be taking over next year,” Ringdahl emphasised.
“We’re getting structures into place this year and hopefully it’ll carry on (beyond this season).”
High-profile prop Bamford, who returns from a year in Australia, is an enormous addition to the Bulldogs’ squad. In conjunction with Ringdahl he helped the Lions to the 2014 grand final and the pair have retained a solid bond.
But the charismatic front-rower is far from the only blue-chip signing out Kaiapoi way.
Wily playmaker Izic Placid has been lured from Papanui, Vinnie Paul arrives from Aranui, while Jason Bamford, a try-scorer in the Bulldogs’ 2007 grand final win over Linwood, is also back at the club.
Classy young Keas back-up half Leon Jarden, who Ringdahl has huge wraps on, has also been brought north in a deft piece of succession planning; he is expected to learn plenty from Placid. The coach is also counting on getting plenty out of 2017 standouts Chase Williams, Nick Wain and Anthony Bergman.
Patella Tou is set to return to the Bulldogs after turning out for Cook Islands in the Hong Kong Sevens, while gun back-rower Michael Butson will be back during the second half of the season as he works his way back from a knee injury.
But Ringdahl is quick to point out that reputations count for little under his watch, and the Bulldogs’ unprecedented depth means no player can take his spot in the top team for granted.
“I’ve broken the season down into blocks of three, so after three rounds we’ll assess how everyone’s going and have a look at the ‘Bs’, because there’s some quality players for us in the ‘Bs’ his year,” Ringdahl explained.
“I’ve told the premier players that if they’re not up to scratch (they’ll be replaced). They’ve got three games to show me they want to stay in the premiers, and the ‘Bs’ have to show me they want to step up to the premiers.
“I’m not holding back or favouring anyone.”
The Bulldogs host the Eagles at Murphy Park in Round 1 – and Ringdahl is not taking the easterners lightly.
“Watching Aranui in the pre-season, they’re going to be quite dangerous in our first-up game. They look exciting – they move the ball well, they’ve got quick wingers.
“What we’ve achieved in the pre-season means nothing if we can’t do it on Saturday.”
Ringdahl confirmed the Bulldogs premiers have much more responsibility on their shoulders than just performing creditably for themselves.
Northern Bulldogs have been through more hardships and heartache than most clubs in recent years, and he is determined to see the graft and loyalty of their supporters and volunteers saluted with on-field success.
“The boys are really looking forward to the season, they’ve got a buzz about them and the club’s got a buzz about it,” Ringdahl said.
“A few of the old fellas are back there now, and now it’s really about paying those people back that helped out with the clubrooms (after the earthquakes).
“It’s a payback year for those people that helped rebuild the club.”
Years active (premiers division): 2010-present (formerly Kaiapoi – 1964-89, 2002-09)
Titles: None (Kaiapoi won 1 title – 2007)
2018 Coach: Brent Ringdahl
Last season: 5th (5 wins, 9 losses)