CRL 2019 PREVIEW: LIONS PLAYING FOR MORE THAN PRIDE
Celebration Lions coach Steve Fenika was proud of his young, new-look team’s resolve in 2018, finishing sixth with four wins and a draw. But he knows a top-four finish was within their grasp – and admits anything less than a finals appearance this season will be a disappointment.
The Lions lost four games by six points or less last year, emphasising how close a semi-final place was given they were just two points shy of the fourth-placed Hornets, who also held them to a crucial late-season draw.
“That was one of the main talking points, progressing from last year. I think we underperformed (last year), I think the boys knew that and they want to improve on that performance,” Fenika said.
“We really want to make a go at the top four and go forward from there.”
But the hard-marking coach revealed the signs from his team are positive heading into a new campaign.
Celebration’s squad arguably looks stronger this year, while Fenika has been heartened by some rousing pre-season form despite their initial trial against Halswell being cancelled in the wake of the March 15 terror attack.
“We started training in early-January, it’s been a long pre-season but the boys are ready to go,” he said.
“We had a trial against Linwood and we played really well – I’m really happy with how they’ve progressed. Whenever you can match it with the best, you’ve got to be happy with that.
“I’m really happy with the young ones that stood up to Linwood and handled everything they threw at them.”
The Lions have lost 2018 mainstays Antonio Lemalu and Muipu Nati to Papanui. But those departure have been softened by the return of Lupe Siaifa, the acquisition of ex-Aranui player Tristan Jackson, and the decision of Kasi Leka to embark on one last hurrah.
All three players had a year off last season and Fenika confirmed the trio are raring to go.
Heading into his fourth season as the Lions’ premiers coach, Fenika said the buzz is building at the club as the season approaches – from the juniors through to the senior grades.
“We always want to improve as a club from the year before, so the (juniors) have been training for the last few weeks.
“The park is getting filled up with the young ones. But as usual we want to have a good solid year and try and promote the game of rugby league and draw more people back to the game.”