The Rockcote Canterbury Bulls are still catching their breath from a watershed NZRL National Premiership campaign – but their season still has two bumper home games remaining.

Canterbury qualified for their first Premiership final since 2015 after achieving a round-robin cleansweep with wins over Akarana, Waikato and Counties Manukau, the latter in a historic clash at Ngā Puna Wai Sports Hub. The Rockcote Bulls earned the right to host the final but went down to the Falcons 28-10 after trailing by just two points at halftime.


Andrew Auimatagi’s side are now gearing up for clashes with NSW Country Under-23s (October 12) and Toa Samoa (October 25) at Ngā Puna Wai in a massive double coup for rugby league in our region.

“Having the opportunity to extend the representative programme for the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls against two quality overseas teams, one of which is an international line-up, presents a fantastic opportunity for our players to challenge themselves as individuals,” Canterbury Rugby League CEO Duane Fyfe said.

“It also brings a different type of football to test team tactics and provide development for the coaching staff. Being able to host these teams at Ngā Puna Wai also adds to the event, this being evidenced last week by the France 19s team officials, who were very impressed and complimentary of the rugby league facilities.”

The touring NSW Country team sounded a warning to the Rockcote Bulls on Tuesday, thrashing a North Island Championship combination 74-6 in Rotorua.

“We’ve get a team of young guys that are still aspiring to play NRL,” NSWCRL High Performance and Elite Pathways Football Manager Matt Parish said.

“We’ve got players with plenty of ability, and the game against Canterbury will be a good test for our guys because they’re going up against one of the best provincial teams in New Zealand. We’re under no illusion as to how tough it’s going to be. It will be a really good challenge.”

Drawing on the best young NSW talent based outside Sydney, the Country players are following in the footsteps of some of rugby league’s all-time greats that have donned the maroon and gold jumper over the years.

No less than 23 members of the NRL’s Hall of Fame hail from NSW Country areas, including Immortals Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Graeme Langlands and Andrew Johns.

“New South Wales Country has a really proud tradition of producing really good players, and I’ve got no doubts there’s a few in this side too,” Parish asserted.

“Australia and New Zealand lead the way in rugby league, and in New South Wales Country where these young men are from, we produce over 30 percent of NRL players. Canterbury, while it’s a strong rugby (union) area, is certainly a strong league area as your results over the last couple of years has shown.

“Forging this relationship, maybe you guys can come over to New South Wales and play us over there next time – that would be great.”

Canterbury Rugby League’s move to Ngā Puna Wai in 2019 has opened up a plethora of opportunities already, including the pre-season visit of the Warriors’ Canterbury Cup NSW team and the staging of four matches simultaneously on Grand Final Day.

Parish is looking forward to experiencing the state of the art facilities first-hand.

“I haven’t been there, but I’ve seen it on the internet and I’ve been told it’s a fantastic venue. Facilities like that are not only good for players, they’re good for spectators. I’ve got no doubt it will be a great day for anyone who comes out to watch.”

Touch Canterbury is arranging a quality touch football match as the curtain-raiser to the Rockcote Bulls-NSW Country showdown and former team staff from the last 19 years of the Canterbury Bulls have been invited to attend the match.

Meanwhile, Parish will become very familiar with Christchurch and Ngā Puna Wai during October – the former Balmain first-grader has been Toa Samoa’s coach since 2013. He is viewing Samoa’s assignment against Canterbury as a vital warm-up for their Test against Fiji at Eden Park on November 2.

“The timing has worked out very well, for both teams to be playing one of the top provincial teams in New Zealand,” Parish said.

“It’s a very important game for Samoa ahead of a very important Test match against Fiji. I know the boys are certainly looking forward to getting down there. We understand there’s a reasonable Samoan community down there so we’re looking to engage with those people as well.”

Parish promised fans will get to see a host of NRL stars in the flesh; he intends to field a full-strength side against the Rockcote Bulls.

“Whoever plays in the Test will be playing in that game. There will be a few guys that won’t be playing in the (World Cup) Nines like Marty Taupau and Junior Paulo, so they’ll be getting plenty of time (against Canterbury).”

Toa Samoa emerged as a force on the international stage under Parish courtesy of their valiant efforts during the 2014 Four Nations tournament, almost pulling off king-sized upsets against England and New Zealand.

But the island nation experienced an underwhelming 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign, failing to win a game and being held to a draw by minnows Scotland.

They took a big step in the right direction in June, however, with a team captained by Anthony Milford and containing the likes of Paulo, Taupau, Jorge Taufua, David Nofoaluma and Chanel Harris-Tavita beating a strong Papua New Guinea side 24-6. Fiji’s is a scalp Parish would love to hang over Toa Samoa’s mantelpiece.

“We were disappointing in the 2017 World Cup – there’s no getting away from that. But we did very well against PNG, we’re getting momentum back now and everything we’re doing is building towards the 2021 World Cup, where we have to really make our presence felt.”

A familiar name will be back in rugby league circles on October 25, too, with Bartercard coming on board as major sponsor for the Canterbury-Toa Samoa blockbuster.

Bartercard has a rich history with the code as the naming rights sponsor for the national competition from 2000-09 – the Bartercard Cup and later the Bartercard Premiership.

“It is great to renew the relationship with Bartercard, who have a previous history with rugby league during the era when the Bulls moniker became the best-known domestic brand in New Zealand rugby league,” Fyfe said.

“As sponsors of the match they support Canterbury Rugby League in being able to host the Toa Samoa team in our city.”

Photo Credit: NSW Country Rugby League

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