Celebration Lions had a mountain to climb at the start of the 2018 season after losing several key players who hung up the boots.

The void was filled with youth, meaning attributes that come with playing rugby league for a long time, such as closing down games in the dying minutes, were lacking for the Lions this year.

With a record of four wins and a draw from 14 games, Celebration finished sixth – just one victory shy of fourth spot, where the club landed in 2017.

Coach Steve Fenika praised the team’s resolve and despite not getting as many points as they would have liked, he is pleased with the progress on and off the pitch.

“Our main goal was to make the four and push on and win it, but we took a bit of a hit with some of our experienced players moving on,” Fenika said.

Fenika revealed that from last year’s team, around nine players retired, meaning there was an opportunity for the club’s up-and-comers to step up.

“We blooded a lot of our younger players, so a lot came up from the 18s and some from the reserves.

“It was pretty much a new squad, but we still aimed for top four. There were a few games that we let slip and I think that just came down to experience.”

This season showed the talent that Lions have in the younger grades, and Fenika believes that can be a real strength for them in the coming seasons.

“There’s some really good talent coming through. Antonio (Lemalu) our hooker has been playing both grades, so 18s and Premiers on Saturday,s and also Jope (Gaunavou) had a really solid year.”

The mix of younger players and experience from previous years was seen in the last weeks of the regular season, as the team seemed to gel and come into their own to stay in the finals hunt.

Three of the Lions’ losses were by margins of six points or less, while their Round 11 draw with Halswell Hornets, who ultimately finished fourth, proved pivotal.

“Our last four-to-five games we played some really good footy, our two games against Linwood were really good games,” Fenika said.

“It was probably the last 20 minutes where we probably lost both of those games. With the top two teams we proved we could match it.”

Moving forward, Fenika asserted this team will be one to watch in the future, with some strong talent coming through.

Celebtation Lions play the Aranui Eagles in the first round of the Gore Cup on August 11.

Celebration Lions
Share this