Last season always shaped as a challenging one for Papanui Tigers, faced with massive player turnover and a barely recognisable roster.

The club’s difficult task was compounded by a shocking injury toll that tested its already tenuous depth. Chalking up three wins to stave off the wooden spoon was a notable achievement under the circumstances.

But with long-serving trainer Tyler Sullivan at the helm, a strong recruitment drive and a more settled pre-season, things are looking up in Tiger Town.

“It’s pretty exciting with some of the boys we’ve got, so it should be a good season,” said Sullivan, who took the coaching reins for the closing rounds of 2018.

“There should be plenty of improvement, we’ve got a lot of new boys – probably about 70 percent of the squad are new players and we’ve got a few coming back from other clubs and coming back after some time off.

“We had a pretty successful (Crosbie) Nines, only a couple of our boys were over 23 (years old) and we lost the final to Linwood.”

While 2018 mainstays such as Cyrus Timo-Latu, Benaiah Crichton and Elijah Tauamiti leave a hole, Papanui has made a number of astute acquisitions.

Antonio Lemalu and Muipu Nati both come to the club after impressive campaigns at Celebration, while former Rockcote Canterbury Bulls forward Paradise Mann returns after a season with Northern.

Another ex-Bulls rep, front-rower Vincent Tusa, is back in the Massetti Cup after a couple of years off.

Former Warriors NYC and Counties Manukau Stingrays outside-back Gibson Popoali’i joins the Tigers after a season with Sydney Shield club Asquith Magpies, and several players from the Waikato and Auckland competitions have ventured south to don the black-and-gold jumper.

The likes of front-row duo Roger and John Tafua, Tufuga Sa, Mitch Harding and Hayden Thompson are back on deck after playing key roles in holding the Tigers’ threadbare playing ranks together last season.

Sullivan is satisfied with his new-look side’s pre-season efforts and how the line-up is coming together.

“We had two trial games, gave everyone a run and a bit of a taste. We drew against Bulldogs and lost by a couple of tries to Hornby,” he said.

“We’ve got a whole new spine, so that will help us build a new base from there.

“Our main goal is to get into the top four – with as few injuries as possible. Once you get into the finals anything can happen.”

The Tigers get underway with a home assignment against Halswell Hornets at Papanui Domain on Saturday.

Papanui Tigers
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