If ever Harbour are going to turn their fortunes around, it could be this year as they have the depth of personnel to be a contender.
Harbour have a dismal recent record but the arrival of Steve Jackson as head coach may finally see them put together some more convinccing performances. LIAM NAPIER with the story.
The Big Pict ure
Let’s start with the positives; it can’t get any worse. Over the last four years Harbour have won eight from 42 games. That’s a truly dire record in anyone’s language. The good news is they may have finally found a leader. It’s early days, but before a ball has been kicked new head coach Steve Jackson is making all the right noises.
Jackson, alongside Tana Umaga, helped transform Counties Manukau to Premiership semifinalists and Ranfurly Shield holders last year. Harbour are in desperate need of a similar intervention.
They need someone to crack heads and with an old- school attitude towards forward play Jackson could be just the man. For many years the province has struggled to form any identity. Flashy backs but no substance elsewhere.
Jackson wants a much improved, aggressive, physical forward pack - one Harbour hasn’t seen for some time – to set the tone. He wants his big men to go places others won’t. If you’re not up for that, don’t bother. The backs are still there – Bryn Hall, Matt McGahan, Pita Ahki, Nafi Tuitavake and Tevita Li form a seriously lethal backline. But they’re no good without quality possession. Changing perceptions as much as results will be the challenge. The North Shore hasn’t had any rugby to celebrate in recent memory. Jackson doesn’t waste time laying down a marker – and you get a sense he’s a man who walks the talk.
Rising St ar
There’s a shortage of quality tighthead props in New Zealand and if Sione Mafileo can keep on top of arthritis issues which troubled him last year, the possibilities are endless. Mafileo, a former NZ Under 20 product, spent
Vision Statement I believe there’s been quality players in Harbour but because of the position they’ve been in the last few years they’ve decided to go over the bridge and ply their trade somewhere else. I believe we’ve got the talent and this team is good enough. Hopefully we’re creating an environment where they want to play for Harbour and the jersey means something to them. A winning team makes everybody’s job a lot easier. I’ve got a goal to make the semifinals. It’s not about rotating players – we’ll be putting the best team out there every week. We’re going to have a damn good crack at the Championship. My job is to make the players believe. Head coach Steve Jackson
much of last year on crutches, due to his illness. Relapses will be managed, but he is said to be making steady progress and could have a major impact this year. Tevita Li will be an undoubted force, and the mobile 105kg Brandon Nansen, who can slot in at lock and blindside flanker, is another with untapped potential.
He’s only 22, but Bryn Hall is very much a leader. Struck down with illness and a broken jaw last season, the collected halfback grasped his chance this year. An influential figure in the Blues’ campaign, Hall will form a key link between the backs and forwards – his guiding presence will need to be consistent for Harbour to achieve their goals. Hayden Triggs and James Parsons are two further experienced operators. Having such cool heads at hooker and lock will be vital in close matches. Whether he recovers from his concussion battles or not, Ben Afeaki will play a mentoring role on or off the field.
Francis Saili is the only major loss - the former All Blacks second five- eighth has rejoined his big brother back over the bridge with Auckland. First- five James Semple is one of a number of players let go. While 16 return from last year to form the core of the squad, at least 10 fresh faces will don the Harbour jersey this year. That signals a major cleanout and, perhaps, the start of a new era. Triggs is a quality signing at this level and interest will centre on pivot Matt McGahan, who returns from a stint with the Melbourne Storm.