PRIDE AND BULLS JERSEYS ON THE LINE WHEN EAST MEETS WEST
Crosstown pride goes on the line when East squares off against West in the seventh edition of the representative fixture – and third since its reinstatement to the Canterbury Rugby League calendar – at Ngā Puna Wai.
The East side – mentored by Eagles coach Eddie Timo-Latu – draw their players from the Linwood, Celebration, Northern and Eastern clubs, while Panthers coach and Bulls assistant Jed Lawrie’s West squad is made up of players from Hornby, Papanui, Riccarton and Halswell.
But Saturday’s clash will also serve as a crucial barometer for the eventual Rockcote Canterbury Bulls team picked for the NZRL National Premiership later in 2019.
Canterbury coach Andrew Auimatagi will be casting an eye over many of the established provincial reps, as well as a host of Bulls hopefuls.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing some guys take the opportunity to play in that rep fixture and put their hand up for Bulls selection,” Auimatagi says.
“All the players selected have made the selectors take note and also their coaches have backed that up with some nominations.
“There’s a few boys unavailable with niggly injuries – a few have withdrawn from the original squads named on Sunday – so we’ve had to shuffle some players around and bring in some others that were on the shortlist.
“It’s good for some guys to get this run, but Queen’s Birthday is a good chance for other players to rest so we can understand those who have made themselves unavailable.”
Auimatagi rates the East v West fixture as an ideal environment for prospective Rockcote Bulls players to prove they can slot into a composite team and adapt quickly – as they would be required to do during a short National Premiership campaign.
“You want to see how they operate with different people around them,” he says.
“There are some combinations we have in mind, and with Jed taking the West he has a fair idea of our thinking. And Eddie Latu, he’s jumped on-board and is really supportive of the fixture.
“It’s good to see how they players handle that different type of game and you see who the guys are that are motivated to push for Bulls selection as well.”
The match also looms as a chance for some of the 2019 premiership’s standout tyros to impress on a bigger stage.
“There’s a few guys from the 19s bracket – Caius (Faatili) and Antonio (Lemalu) – who have been playing really good senior footy.
“And just looking at the form of the Eagles and Bulldogs (in the Massetti Cup), there’s a few new faces from those teams, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they go in this rep fixture.”
But Auimatagi is quick to point out East v West is more than a glorified trial game.
The showdown garnered a strong following built on the players’ passion during its initial 2008-11 stint on the CRL calendar. Since being re-established two years ago, Auimatagi believes that enthusiasm is returning for the fixture.
“I think we’re getting there. There was a lot of pride representing your part of town back in the day.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a Canterbury Development team, so this is that next step before (playing for the Bulls) and an opportunity for some guys to showcase what they’ve got.
“With (the match being played at) Ngā Puna Wai, we can really build the atmosphere around this game and hopefully it’s a fixture that hangs around for a long time.”
The inaugural 2008 match saw the John Rangihuna-coached East outfit take down Dave Perkins’ West. The East line-up included the likes of Kasi and Kyle Leka, Josh Ka, Ross Turi, Chris Bamford, Kane Ferris and Phil Wahnig, while West fielded Shane Beyers, Shane Tamatea, Jonny Limmer and Craig Smith.
East repeated the dose under Maurice Emslie in 2009, with Kasi Leka and Sai Sakura bagging doubles in a 38-30 victory, despite a 14-point haul (two tries, three goals) from West’s Sean Scott.
East continued to dominate, making it four straight with wins in 2010 and ’11.
After falling behind 14-0 at halftime, East prevailed 26-18 at Rugby League Park in 2011 – the last East v West showdown before the fixture went on hiatus – with Tama Walker, Dan Moevao and Paul Sauni figuring heavily in the comeback.
In its 2017 comeback, West snared a historic 24-20 win thanks to Kyle Pauro’s golden point extra-time try.
East regained crosstown supremacy last year with a 24-22 victory, holding off fast-finishing West after leading by 14 points midway through the second half.