CRL 2019 PREVIEW: KEAS HUNT MORE HISTORY
The Linwood Keas have unequivocally established themselves as one of the most dominant club sides of Canterbury Rugby League’s modern era with three straight grand final wins for the first time since Eastern Suburbs’ (1979-81) trio of triumphs.
But they can join the annals of the greatest teams in CRL history this year, with the Keas hunting a record-equalling four straight premierships.
Sydenham (1953-56), Hornby (1964-67) and Papanui (1971-74) are the only clubs to have saluted four years in a row – an elite achievement that will ensure motivation will not be a problem in 2019 for Linwood.
“We’ve got a pretty competitive group of guys so it’s pretty easy for us to set new challenges and look to improve,” Keas coach Andrew Auimatagi said.
“We’re our harshest critics and we’re always looking to fix up certain areas of our training and games. The boys will relish the opportunity to go around again and have a good crack. They’re really looking forward to the season kicking off.”
The Canterbury region was devastated by the March 15 terror attack, but no CRL club felt the impact harder than the Keas.
Their home ground is less than half a kilometre from the Linwood mosque, where seven people tragically lost their lives. The Keas have taken it upon themselves to play a role in the area’s healing – including getting together for emotional processions on the following Tuesday and Friday after the attack.
“It’s hit our community pretty hard,” Auimatagi confirmed.
“It seems the east just can’t get a good run at all, but it was time for us to all come together and show our support for our community. It’s one of those crazy times.
“It was important for us to come together and show the community we are thinking of them all, and that we are one, (show) a united front.”
Linwood ultimately made the difficult call to go ahead with their Thacker Shield trip to Greymouth on March 16 – and Auimatagi revealed it was essentially for the good of rugby league.
“It was definitely a big decision. Initially my gut instinct was to not go. But I felt it was important to go to our leadership group and see how all those boys were feeling, and it was quite unanimous that they wanted to go over.
“They understand that facing the West Coast, they wanted also to help them in terms of what they’re trying to do to get the game back to the level it once was. There was a number of factors at play but ultimately our boys felt comfortable playing.
“They hosted us really well and acknowledged the events of the day before. It was a pretty good opportunity to come together and also to help the game on the Coast.”
The Keas came away with a convincing 30-4 win over the Chargers at Wingham Park.
“It was a good result for us, probably not our best performance but there was some pleasing things, like a number of our young guys getting an opportunity,” Auimatagi explained.
The three-time defending champs have retained the nucleus of their 2018 squad, led by the likes of experienced campaigners Paul, Matthew and Erwin Sauni, Alex Todd, Daniel Hartley and Alani Kakoi.
The Keas have also been boosted by the return of young gun Graeme Patu-Vaega’au after a season with the Warriors’ Jersey Flegg team.
“Graeme’s still a young guy and has been pretty impressive in his training, so I’m expecting a big season from him,” Auimatagi enthused.
“There’s also a few guys coming back from injury – Danny Latu has been training the house down and is in great shape. I’ve been really impressed with Thoren Fidow-Kele. He played a lot on the wing last year but he has an opportunity to stamp his mark in the forwards and he’s been one of our most impressive in the off-season.”
Kyle Amer has also progressed through the club’s 18s grade to win a bench call-up for Saturday’s Round 1 showdown with Riccarton.
Linwood will also celebrate its Club Day this weekend.
The recent events in our city have emphasised the leadership role Canterbury Rugby League’s clubs can play in their locales, something that underpins the Keas’ ethos.
“The boys definitely understand that they are flag bearers for the community,” Auimatagi said.
“It highlights how far-reaching our community is and it might help connect us a bit more to other members of community aside from sport.
“We do have a lot of diversity in our sport. We’ve got some great people in our game leading initiatives right across Canterbury. So this gives us the opportunity to really hammer home some important messages around acceptance and inclusivity. I think everyone’s going to learn from this and we’ll strive to be better.”