WILSON TAKES REINS AS SENZ MEN’S CANTERBURY BULLS HEAD COACH
The SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls enter a new era in 2024 following the announcement of former provincial representative and Halswell stalwart Walter Wilson as head coach.
Wilson brings an impressive and varied coaching CV to the role: he guided the Halswell reserve grade team at the tail-end of his playing days, coached Canterbury 19s and South Island Scorpions – the latter to a historic NZRL National Youth Tournament final appearance in 2018 – and led Ryde-Eastwood Hawks to a Sydney Shield triumph in 2019.
A regular grand final hero for Halswell during the 1990s, Wilson returned to the club in 2021 and coached the Hornets premiers to back-to-back preliminary final appearances before stepping down.
“I’ve had a year off, I stepped back from the Halswell role with Ray Hubbard being there, I thought the timing was perfect for him – he was more than ready for that role,” Wilson explains.
“I went and watched a few games, basically stepped right away from it all, but I got itchy feet again. The opportunity with the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls and the timing has just really married together, which I’m really excited about.”
CRL’s call for a SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls head coach unencumbered by club duties prompted the highly respected Jed Lawrie to step down after two years at the helm, the seven-time grand final coach instead lining up for one last season at Hornby.
“Jed did a great job at a really challenging time for Canterbury Rugby League, but having someone that’s going to be accessible to watch all the games and pick the right players that are in form, for all the right reasons, that’ll be an exciting opportunity as well,” Wilson says.
“Just to get around and talk with the coaches and hopefully be able to talk with the players on a weekly basis leading up to selecting a form side will be great.”
CRL CEO Malcolm Humm underlined Wilson’s vast experience and ongoing commitment to developing his coaching skills as key factors in the appointment.
“We are excited about bringing Walter on board as the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls head coach,” Humm enthuses.
“Having coached at a variety of levels locally, including premiers, Canterbury and South Island, Walter took himself offshore to Sydney in 2019 to learn more and gain further experience at a higher level.
“There he was able to take the Ryde Eastwood Hawks, having only returned the Sydney Shield after a 20-year absence, to a grand final win in his first year as their head coach. As part of the appointment process, we were impressed with Walter’s motivation to continually improve as well as his impressive coaching background.
“With the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls being relegated to the National Championship in 2024, Canterbury Rugby League believe Walter is the right person to lead the campaign to victory and guide the team back to the National Premiership in 2025, where he will retain the head coach role.”
The 1989 Junior Kiwi, who earned call-ups for New Zealand XIII and New Zealand Residents during his time as a Canterbury representative and Canterbury Cardinals Lion Red Cup mainstay, harbours a deep passion for the red-and-black jersey – something he’s determined to ensure is shared by the current crop of players.
A hip replacement ruled Wilson out of joining in the reunion festivities in December, which marked 30 years since Canterbury’s iconic 1993 National Championship final victory over Auckland, but it was an event that can provide extra inspiration for the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls.
“Those guys still talk about it proudly and it’s moments like that when you’re not playing footy, you look back on and cherish,” Wilson observes.
“So what we do from here on in is talk about that, and what that might mean for the players today. Where they can build their own legacy, have something that they can look back on fondly when they have a reunion in 20 years and still all be great mates.
“That’s something Canterbury’s always had in the past – and I’m not saying it’s been lost – but certainly we want to make sure we retain it.”
The 2023 campaign was challenging and undeniably disappointing for the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls, going winless in the NZRL National Premiership before losing the relegation match to Waikato Mana.
Wilson is looking forward to the task of restoring the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls to the NZRL’s top tier by taking the Championship in 2024 – and he’s eyeing up a bevy of gifted potential debutants in coming seasons.
“One step at a time, and we might go out with expressions of interest to see who actually wants the privilege of wearing the Canterbury jersey” he says.
“We’ll need to build a belief system within the group and some understandings of what we’re doing – all of those key phrases that most coaches throw out there.
“We know we’ve got talent in Canterbury. You can see the youth that’s come through in the last year, especially with the [National Secondary Schools title] success of St Thomas’, and Manu Clarkson’s [South Island Scorpions 16s] team that he took to the National Tournament title – the majority of those boys were from the Canterbury side.
“There’s a lot of youth coming through, so there’s a lot to look forward to in the next couple of years.”
While aiming to bring a fresh approach to the SENZ Men’s Canterbury Bulls, Wilson knows it is important to preserve the values and team culture aspects that have contributed to the considerable success they have enjoyed in the past eight years under the coaching combination of Andrew Auimatagi and Lawrie.
“I think it’s important to talk to them and I’ll be more than happy to get some feedback about past seasons, what’s worked and what hasn’t,” Wilson confirms.
“I tend to have an inclusive policy when it comes to coaching. But at the end of the day we need to do what’s right for the team moving forward.
“And if Andrew and Jed are still in a position where they’re able to support that, they’ll be more than welcome to sit and have a chat.”
Canterbury Rugby League will announce the Trillo Metals Women’s Canterbury Bulls head coach appointment later this week.