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Auckland Rugby League Club season previews

Club season previews - 2018 SAS Fox Memorial Premiership
April 5, 2018
Auckland Rugby League Media

The Auckland Rugby League previews all 10 first division clubs ahead of the 2018 SAS Fox Memorial Premiership kicking off on April 7.

Glenora Bears

The competition might be called the Fox, but rest assured this year everyone will actually be hunting bears. Glenora claimed their first SAS Fox Memorial Premiership since the turn of the century last year, coming out convincing winners in the Grand Final in a year where they also wrestled control of the Konica Minolta Roope Rooster. If anything, Glenora’s roster is even better this time around and they look set for another big year.

2017 finish: Winners of the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Caleb Uele (Brothers, Townsville), Dean Kouka-Smith (New Zealand Warriors), Manu Weepu (Ponsonby), Simon Luafalealo (Marist), John Nicodemus (Te Atatu), Chaz Brown (Mt Albert), Dakota Ruta (New Lynn), Shawn-Ray Pafalani (New Lynn), Wayne Tomasi (Pakuranga), Vara Duisokosoko (Suburbs Rugby), Mark Cowan (New Lynn).

Outs: Aaron Booth (retired), Utah Ioka (overseas), Kouma Samson (Mt Albert).

The draw: It looks like a tough first three weeks for the Bears, who open the season with a Grand Final rematch against Pt Chevalier, before coming up against the physical Papakura Sea Eagles and the vastly-improved Northcote Tigers. Their Round 1 meeting with the Pirates shapes as a thriller.

Howick Hornets

Howick enjoyed a strong season last year, footing it with the competition’s top three for most of the year before falling short in the final minutes of the major semi-final against Pt Chevalier. Coach Shaun Clark returns to lead the team in 2018, and the east Auckland club have already made a positive start to 2018 by winning the pre-season Sportsafe ARL Nines plate.

2017 finish: 3rd (beaten in the major semi-final).

Ins: Aziha Ikitule (Papakura), Kruz Tupou (Manurewa), Lui Tusa (Redcliffe Dolphins, Australia), Junior Esera (Otahuhu), Uila Aiolupo (Papakura), Liam Prendergast (Papakura), Alex Van Den Dop (Burleigh Bears, Australia), Caleb Tapsell (Redcliffe Dolphins, Australia), Roman Tuhimata (Papakura), Faaee Afoa (Otahuhu), Troy Pulupaki (Mt Wellington), Naminia Vunu (Otahuhu).

Outs: Trent Bishop, Roydon Gillett, Reece Joyce (all Mt Albert), Noa Vanisi (Australia).

The draw: The fixtures list looks fairly balanced for the Howick Hornets this year. Tough back-to-back meetings with Mt Albert and Glenora await in weeks four and five.

Mangere East Hawks

The Mangere East Hawks dodged relegation with victory in the last game of the season in 2017, with a mid-season coaching switch sparking their late revival. On paper the Hawks are one of the youngest teams in the comp, boasting a team made up predominantly of local juniors.

2017 finish: 9th in the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Feingaola Blake (Waikato), Kalani Ili (Australia), Naisa Fifita (Australia), Ponifasio Kapaga (Howick Hornets), Peni Lausií (rugby union), Lousi Hareti (rugby union), Talimoni Finau (rugby union).

Outs: Phaebian Antonio (Australia), David Faaeteete (Australia), Feao Lavemai (Australia), Caleb Arama (Manurewa Marlins).

The draw: Mangere East will face a tough opening test against the Northcote Tigers. They will be eyeing up a number of games as key contests in the first round, including the week two meeting with the Marist Saints, who they beat in the last game of 2017.

Marist Saints

The Marist Saints were hit hard with injuries last year, culminating in the usual top-four contenders falling well out of finals contention. They also farewelled two veterans who boasted around 200 SAS Fox Memorial Premiership games between them in Simon Ieremia and Siali’i Tufeao. This year the Saints have welcomed back Edwin Fusitu’a (father of Marist junior and New Zealand Warrior David Fusitu’a) who will join head coach Jason Williams on staff. A young team gives the central Aucklanders plenty of hope heading into the new campaign.

2017 finish: 7th in the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Nil (all internal promotion from Marist U20s).

Outs: Chris Sio (Pt Chevalier), Simon Luafalealo (Glenora), Jay Saena (rugby union), Tevita Vea (Australia), Aussie Tuwhangai (Bay of Plenty), Fernando Ekeroma (Australia), Siali'i Tufeao (retired), Simon Ieremia (retired), Valentino Luafalealo (Europe), Lokeni Gavet (Pt Chevalier), Ngataua Hukutai (rugby union).

The draw: Facing the newly-promoted side in Round 1 is always tricky, and something Marist will have to watch for when they open their season against Otahuhu. The Saints have local derby matches in Rounds 3 (Mt Albert) and Round 9 (Richmond).

Mt Albert Lions

After bowing out in the minor semi-final last year, the Lions have a new head coach and a host of new players to tackle season 2018. Experienced mentor Keith Hanley is on board, while Mt Albert have gained the services of several star players in both the pack and backline, headlined by Trent Bishop and former Junior Warrior Kouma Samson.

2017 finish: 3rd (then knocked out in major semi-final).

Ins: Trent Bishop, Roydon Gillette, Reece Joyce (all Howick), Sala Falelua (Te Atatu), Johnny Falelua (Te Atatu), Peter Oliveti (Papakura), Kouma Samson (Mackay Cutters, Australia).

Outs: Kitiona Pasene, Laupepa Pasene, Dan Palavi, Tama Pasene (all Pt Chevalier), Akuila Tuha (Papakura), Paulos Latu (rugby union).

The draw: The Lions open the campaign against Papakura, who missed last year’s play-offs, before meeting what is set to be a strong Northcote outfit in week two. The traditional grudge match against Howick awaits four games into either round, while they have to wait until rounds 9 and 18 for a crack at defending champions Glenora.

Northcote Tigers

As far as the Northcote Tigers were concerned, it would have suited them perfectly if the regular season could have gone for another month last year, such was the ferocity of their late-season surge, which saw them just fall short of a play-off berth. With the addition of local junior Dylan Moses, the Tigers now have one of the best forward packs in the competition and should be a leading contender for a top four spot in 2018.

2017 finish: 5th in the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Dylan Moses (Pt Chevalier), James Bates (Pt Chevalier), Tumatahi Kihi (Northland), Tamati Leach (Northland), Jordan Te Aho (Christchurch), Brett Watto (Australia), Lomano Manuha’apai (rugby union), Loni Vaitohi (rugby union).

Outs: Cole Waaka (New Zealand Warriors reserves), Trent Schaumkel (New Zealand Warriors reserves), Tyler Wallace (retired), Izak Matene (Otahuhu), James Viau (Australia), Levi McBirney (rugby), Pauliasi Pahulu (retired), Angus Beazley (Australia).

The draw: The Tigers won’t have to wait long to test themselves against the best in 2018, with a brutal start to the year seeing them face three of last year’s play-off teams in the first five weeks.

Otahuhu Leopards

Last year marked a historic low for this proud south Auckland club, being relegated to the second division for the first time in their history. But their response in securing immediate promotion to the Fox couldn’t have been better. Coach John Ackland is back, along with a handful of quality player additions. The Leopards’ hopes of a positive finish will depend greatly on the performance of their forward pack, which was their major strength in 2017.

2017 finish: Winners of the Crown Lift Trucks Sharman Cup.

Ins: Jonah Sofele (Pt Chevalier), Izak Matene (Northcote), Setu Tu (Mangere East), Damon Simann (Christchurch), Sione Tongia (Australia).

Outs: Nil.

The draw: The fixtures list looks fairly balanced for Otahuhu, with games against last year’s play-off teams scattered evenly throughout the first and second round. The Leopards will open their campaign against Marist, before playing Howick in what is a traditional rivalry match in Round 2.

Papakura Sea Eagles

Injuries plagued the Papakura Sea Eagles last season, exposing a lack of depth towards the back end of the year. Coaching responsibilities were shared between Songi Tupou and Kelvin Wright in 2017, but long-serving player Roman Hifo will take the reins this year hoping to steady the ship. After missing the finals 12 months on from winning the Fox title, Papakura will be desperate to get back to being a Premiership force.

2017 finish: 6th in the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Jamal Hunt (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Phoenix Hunt (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Saufa Sumuletu (Mangere East), Akuila Tuha (Mt Albert), Junior Napara (rugby sevens), Elijah Mercury-Leafa (rugby).

Outs: Peter Oliveti (Mt Albert), Liam Prendergast (Howick), Aziah Filipo-Ikitule (Howick).

The draw: The Sea Eagles have been dealt difficult cards in the first couple rounds, based on where they finished on the ladder last year. They will open their season against the Mt Albert Lions before coming up against the reigning-champion Glenora Bears in week two.

Pt Chevalier Pirates

Pt Chevalier started their 2017 campaign by winning both the Stormont Shield (champion of champions) and Konica Minolta Roope Rooster (challenge trophy), before going on to claim the minor premiership. Ultimately Zane Pocklington's side fell short against the Glenora Bears in the biggest game of the year, and in 2018 there's a changing of the guard at Walker Park, with former skipper Dylan Moses gone and a host of new players on the scene.

2017 finish: SAS Fox Memorial Premiership runners-up (1st in regular season).

Ins: Mike Ki (Capras, Australia) Matthew Tuitama (Junee, Australia), Chris Sio (New Zealand Warriors U20s), Kane Telea (New Zealand Warriors U20s) Daniel Palavi (New Zealand Warriors reserves), Koli Oneone (Otahuhu), Kitiona Pasene, Laupepa Pasene, Tama Pasene (all Mt Albert).

Outs: Siua Otunuku (retired), Siliga Kepaoa (suspended), Tane Rapira (Runaway Bay) Javier Pitovao (Canterbury Bulldogs U20), Dylan Moses (Northcote), James Bates (Northcote), Daniel Liddicoat (Otahuhu), Jonah Sofele (Otahuhu).

The draw: The Pirates open their season with a grand final rematch against Glenora, with the Stormont Shield and Konica Minolta Roope Rooster up for grabs. Games against play-off teams are scattered evenly across the board, with highly-anticipated matches scheduled for Round 8, against traditional contenders Mt Albert, followed by Howick in Round 9.

Richmond Bulldogs

After a strong first half of the season last year, Richmond put themselves in a position where SAS Fox Memorial Premiership safety was all but assured by the midway point. Steve Buckingham returns as head coach for 2018, and with his past experience in leading teams to finals footy, things are looking positive for the central Aucklanders. The pick up of talented halfback Kyle Neal could be just what the Bulldogs need to go to the next level as a team.

2017 finish: 8th in the SAS Fox Memorial Premiership.

Ins: Thomas Hall (Eden Tigers, Australia), Ngatokorua Kamana-Pou (Manurewa), Michael Lemafa (Otahuhu), Brandan Motion (rugby), Kakoi Togoiu (Mangere East), Kyle Neal (Te Atatu), Cainan Hall (Marist), Inoke Tavesivesi (rugby), Alipate Fifita (rugby).

Outs: Nil.

The draw: Richmond will come up against 2017 play-off teams, the Howick Hornets and Pt Chevalier Pirates, in the first two rounds, marking a tough start to 2018. Once again the Grey Lynn outfit will be targeting a handful of games as must-win in the first round, to take pressure off on the run home.


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