CRL 2019 PREVIEW: BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR EASTERN
It’s official: after 13 seasons as Aranui, the club will be known as the Eastern Eagles – and coach Eddie Timo-Latu is hoping his side can build on the rich history cultivated by Eastern Suburbs between 1968 and 2005.
“For some it’s new, for some they’ve heard of it before and for some they’ve come through, like myself, back in the day when we were known as Eastern Suburbs,” Timo-Latu explained.
“I’m really happy with the name-change to be honest, especially after playing for Eastern Suburbs through the grades. It’s really positive. We’re rebuilding the club still, but it’s looking good and there’s some good changes.”
Eastern Suburbs competed in six grand finals, winning four – including a famous hat-trick of titles from 1979-81.
While the push for the Eastern Eagles change was notable, the club’s 2018 season will be chiefly remembered for the return to a refurbished Wainoni Park.
A flourishing finish on the field – with the Eagles winning three of their last five games – was a promising yet painful reminder of the potential at the club, agonisingly finishing just one point shy of the finals.
“(The return to Wainoni) was massive, the boys loved being back at home,” Timo-Latu said.
“Obviously they were a bit down that we didn’t go a bit further, we had a lot of opportunities to make that top four, but it’s a new year, new season and pretty much a new-look team. They’re confident and keen to get on the field.
“We had a good pre-season, we started in November last year. We’ve had good numbers – we lost a couple to rugby, but we also gained a couple.
“The boys are ready. They’ve been combining well and looking really good, they’re obviously just keen to get on the field and put it together as a team.”
Louis Fanene, Lui Ah Tong, Sam Robinson and Benjamin Houghton have joined rugby union clubs for 2019, but the loss of that key quartet has been tempered for the Eagles by a host of exciting additions.
Cyrus Timo-Latu – coach Eddie’s son – arrives from Papanui and has been joined in the squad by younger brother Rezyn, who graduates from the Eagles’ 18s ranks. Matt Clydesdale and Mikaele Pilimai are quality players who left three-time champs Linwood for the chance to play regular premier football.
Kolone Fa’Alilo and playmaking linchpin Tama Walker will co-captain the youthful Eagles side.
With the squad a little light on experience, Eddie Timo-Latu has emphasised the importance of focusing on the simple aspects of the game.
“Ball control is one thing, and like any team defence is key, just numbering up. Being smart in what we do instead of trying to force plays. Back to basics – and I think a lot of teams will be doing that.
“Also one of the things we worked on last year was getting that team culture back into the Eagles prems, which I felt was missing. I didn’t realise it until I returned. But this year will be building on that and taking it a step further.”
That strong club culture was underlined by the Eagles getting out in support of the local community in the wake of the March 15 attacks.
The rebranded Eastern Eagles kick off their 2019 campaign with an Eastside derby against Celebration Lions at Wainoni Park – a gilt-edged opportunity for both clubs to stake an early claim for the top four.
“Pretty much our boys just need to focus on ourselves,” Timo-Latu said.
“Obviously Celebration have got some big guns and we’ve got to take them seriously, like any other team. My expectations are just for my team to complete their sets – the two main areas: ball control and defence.”