After three straight finals appearances, the Riccarton Knights faced a challenging overhaul in 2017 after losing a clutch of their best players.

Sam Brown’s inexperienced side landed in sixth with two wins and two draws to show for their efforts in 14 outings, but the coach believes the baptism of fire has set his squad up for the seasons ahead.

“Last year we lost eight premier players from the season before, the likes of Zac (Riley) and Jope (Tagicakibau) were both 17 turning 18 and we had another couple of guys who were 19 and 20,” Brown explained.

“So last year was definitely a rebuilding year for us. Hopefully these young guys have got a bit of confidence under their belts after completing a full season in premiers.”

Along with Riley and Tagicakibau, Brown revealed fellow teenagers Zion Kamana, an import from Celebration, and Taulaga Elia, who was blooded by the Knights in last year’s Canterbury Cup competition, are set to add to Riccarton premiers’ young and exciting look in 2018.

But a nucleus of some of Canterbury Rugby League’s longest-serving players remain to guide the tyros, with stalwarts Shane Tamatea and Justin Lynch backing up to pull on the boots yet again.

Meanwhile, the Knights’ campaign will be spearheaded by Rockcote Canterbury Bulls duo Reuben Te Amo and Blake Thompson, two of the standouts of last year’s NZRL National Premiership campaign.

Dynamic forward Te Amo collected the Bulls Sportsman of the Year honour at the 2017 CRL Awards night, while Thompson was a revelation in the centres.

“Blake has really stepped up in the pre-season,” Brown enthused.

“He’s been one hundred percent committed, he hasn’t missed a session and we’ve rewarded him with a sort of co-captaincy role with Reuben, Rob Nepia and Shane Tamatea.

“But Blake will be the ‘team captain’.”

Riccarton start the Massetti Cup at Crosbie Park this Saturday against Halswell in a rematch of last year’s Gore Cup final combatants – and the Knights will be eager to avenge their loss in that decider.

Thompson will skipper the side from fullback, with Kamana lining up in the centres, Riley steering the ship from halfback, and Elia joining Te Amo and Lynch in an imposing front-row trio.

“We won’t have our full first-choice team with other commitments and injuries, but we’re confident within ourselves that we’ll give it our best shot and come out with a positive outcome,” Brown said.

But Brown emphasised the Knights are about much more than on-field results. The club base everything they do upon a set of values they drew up last year.

The Riccarton premiers and Canterbury Cup team is guided by an overall principle of acceptance and understanding that helps us create a culture of respect, equality and inclusiveness, both on and off the field.

It is our goal to use our core values, through rugby league, to empower and enhance development within our community. We, as a team and as individuals, represent and respect a wide range of human differences, personal experiences and cultural backgrounds.

“Rugby league’s a fantastic sport, and it’s got all these little hidden qualities in it,” Brown said.

“We’re trying to plant those seeds with the players to strive to be better people.”


Years active (premiers division): 1931-33, 1939-42, 1944, 1947-52, 1976, 1996-97, 2001-present
Titles: 2 – 2002, 2004
2018 Coach: Sam Brown
Last season: 6th (won 2, lost 10, drew 2)

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