‘HONEST REFLECTION’ KEY TO SENZ CANTERBURY BULLS’ REBOUND HOPES
Putting a jarring 44-0 loss behind them – while simultaneously taking the harsh lessons dispensed by Counties Manukau Stingrays in their Round 1 fixture – will be central to the SENZ Canterbury Bulls opening their 2023 NZRL National Premiership account against Auckland Vulcans, according to assistant coach Andrew Auimatagi.
The eight-tries-to-none defeat at Ngā Puna Wai was not the way Jed Lawrie’s Bulls wanted to kick off their campaign, especially after upsetting the Stingrays in the corresponding clash last year. But they get a chance to atone at home on Sunday as another heavyweight from the north makes the trip to Ōtautahi Christchurch.
“The boys were hurting a bit, but it’s really important they don’t dwell on it,” says Auimatagi, who missed the SENZ Canterbury Bulls’ opener while leading St Thomas of Canterbury College to NZSST glory in Auckland last weekend.
“They had a really good training session on (Tuesday) night and they’re just looking for improvement in a few areas. I know the boys will want to put a good performance in to get the ball rolling.
“It doesn’t get any easier, but I’m really impressed with the energy and just the honest reflection at training the other night – I’m hoping to see the boys have a good crack this week.”
While the scoreline painted a grim picture for the SENZ Canterbury Bulls, there were definite positives to glean from the performance – particularly bright starts to both halves, where a string of gilt-edged scoring opportunities slipped agonisingly out of reach.
But its without the ball where the Bulls need to tighten up and be accountable, Auimatagi contends.
“The review and the honesty, the boys identified all the areas that needed to be fixed up and acknowledged that if a few of those tries were scored or the ball goes to hand it could have been a different game with a momentum swing.
“It’s not panic stations, we’re just building on some of the good things to tidy up a few little effort areas – particularly in defence, that’s the key coming up against these big Auckland teams.
“We’ve got to make sure we do our bit defending the middle of the field.”
It’s not quite do-or-die for the SENZ Canterbury Bulls’ semi-final chances just yet.
The top two teams from both pools qualify for the semis. The Bulls’ clash with the Vulcans is their cross-pool fixture, followed by a road trip to take on pool-mates Otago Whalers – who went down 42-22 to Akarana Falcons at home in Round 1 and face a daunting away assignment against the Stingrays this Sunday.
But Canterbury is determined to put one hand on a playoffs spot by knocking over Auckland, which made a statement of its own via a 48-22 victory over Waikato Mana last weekend.
While the Vulcans haven’t featured in the NZRL National Premiership in recent years, there’s no shortage of high-quality, vastly experienced players in their line-up, including the likes of playmaker Francis Leger and former Warriors NSW Cup forward stalwart Patrick Sipley.
“There’s quite a few boys that we’re aware of and know pretty well (in the Vulcans team),” Auimatagi says.
“It’s a really strong side so it’s an exciting challenge for us to get to come up against some of the best in the game over the past few years.
“We know what they bring, they’re an experienced outfit and it will be pretty tough to compete if we aren’t at the top of our game.”
The SENZ Canterbury Bulls and Auckland Vulcans kick off their encounter at Ngā Puna Wai at 2pm, Sunday, September 10.