Shorter premier season praised
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.
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.