Shorter premier sea­son praised

Central Leader - - Sport - By Scott Mor­gan

The de­ci­sion to shorten Auck­land’s premier club rugby league sea­son has won sup­port from lo­cal coaches.

Last year there was a 15week grad­ing round be­fore the top and bot­tom eight teams split into the Fox Memo­rial and sec­ond-tier Shar­man Cup com­pe­ti­tions.

But this sea­son, which starts this week­end, the 16 sides have been split into two pools, re­duc­ing the grad­ing round to seven games be­fore the cham­pi­onship rounds start.

Mt Al­bert Lions coach Brent Gem­mell, whose team won the Fox Memo­rial last year, sup­ports hav­ing fewer rounds be­cause it means the club and pro­vin­cial sea­sons no longer over­lap.

“When guys at­tend club and Auck­land train­ing they get dif­fer­ent game plans and coach­ing. It can mud­dle the sea­son up,” he says. “This way guys have a clear goal.”

He says the club has lost some ex­pe­ri­ence with play­maker Re­gan Wigg suf­fer­ing a sea­son-end­ing back in­jury in re­cent weeks and stand­off Steve Buck­ing­ham tak­ing on the role of as­sis­tant coach.

“We’re try­ing to keep him off the field, but if he gets the itch he may end up play- ing footy.”

How­ever he hopes a num­ber of promis­ing play­ers from the un­der-18s and un­der-20s will step up to the mark.

“It’ll be a mea­sure of our abil­ity as coaches as much as their tal­ent,” Gem­mell says.

Rich­mond Bull­dogs co­coach John Teina, whose side won last year’s Shar­man Cup com­pe­ti­tion, also feels fewer matches in the first half of the sea­son is a pos­i­tive move.

“With the 15-game con­cept, it can all be over quite early in the grad­ing round, which means there’s noth­ing to play for,” he says.

“This way if you’re los­ing you can get straight into the cham­pi­onship.”

Teina says their first goal for the sea­son is to go one bet­ter than last year and make the top eight.

“I felt we did all right last year by winning the Shar­man and now need to kick on and qual­ify for the Fox.”

With ti­tle con­tenders Mt Al­bert and Marist both in their pool, Teina says his side will have their work cut out for them.

But he says the draw has been kind to them.

“We’ve got those two teams last so hope­fully we’ll get the job done be­fore then without get­ting into a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion.”

On Satur­day the Mt Al- bert Lions play the Marist Saints at Fowlds Park, the Rich­mond Bull­dogs take on the Bay Roskill Vik­ings at Blockhouse Bay Re­serve and the Pon­sonby Ponies face the Paku­ranga Jaguars at Vic­to­ria Park.

All matches 2.30pm.

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Photo: FIONA GOODALL

De­fend­ing champs: The Mt Al­bert Lions league side, pic­tured af­ter last year’s Fox Memo­rial fi­nal, start their ti­tle de­fence with a match against Marist on Satur­day.

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