Northland are lacking star quality and experience but will have their usual heart and commitment.
Northland have limited resources but still feel they didn’t achieve what they could have last year. LIAM NAPIER says they want to improve their decision- making under pressure this campaign.
Vision Statement We expect to do better on the field. Every player is a leader. It’s a wee bit about being self reliant and wanting to grow their own game. We want them to be good people as well as good players. That’s a balance that helps become a good rugby team. I thought we had it simple but we’ve simplified it more. The guys have been picked for a reason they just need a bit of direction. We don’t need to cloud their heads and hopefully that’ll help with their composure. Head coach Derren Witcombe
The Big Pict ure
Bottom line, Northland need to improve. Even for a union with limited resources and player depth, two wins from nine games last year wasn’t acceptable.
To be fair, results alone don’t tell the full picture. Losing five games by 10 points or less show they were far from easy beats. They also drew with North Harbour. In hindsight, that’s six games where decision- making under pressure and a lack of composure cost them.
In his first year as head coach, former All Blacks hooker Derren Witcombe absorbed many lessons he hopes to implement this season. Experienced mentor Bryce Woodward has come on board as technical assistant, but responsibility has been placed on players to drive standards.
Witcombe believes he’s seen the start of a culture change. And he’s staying true to a policy of picking local players. Realistically, competing with the large provinces will always be a challenge, but Northland must set a goal of reaching the Championship semifinals.
To achieve that, they’ll need to improve their set piece and overall structure. Traditionally, this team has turned it on for rare occasions. Length of the field tries; flair and flamboyance from the backs are familiar traits. Consistency has been largely absent, however. That must be a major focus this season.
We didn’t get to see the best of Fijian wing Jone Macilai- Tori last year. A dislocated elbow robbed us of the chance to witness his pace – he can run sub five second 50 metres – and finishing ability. Any wonder the Blues and New Zealand sevens have flagged their interest. Get him some ball in space and viewing will be compulsory.
With speed, agility and having spent time with the national sevens team and Blues development side this year, hooker Matt Moulds is also one to watch.
At 26- years- old you’d hardly call Cameron Eyre a veteran. But it highlights the youth of this squad that the No 8 will be captain. He’s well respected by his peers and will be expected to drive the culture. Eyre is aligned with the management and union’s vision and his analytical style means he should be able to impart important messages. Alongside him, flanker Dan Prior and midfielder Winston Stanley will be required to offer assistance.
Flying Fijian wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Rene Ranger and experienced looseforward Jake Paringatai are the notable defections. After much hype, the aging Caucaunibuca was a shadow of his former self and, other than from a marketing perspective, won’t be a great loss. Ranger, captain last season, was an influential figure on the field. Having left for the riches in France his absence will certainly be felt. Though in the twilight of his career, Bay of Plenty- bound Paringatai is a grafting forward that will be hard to replace. Hooker Robbie Abel and lock Bryce Williams are also expected to be out for the season through injury. Stanley is the standout signing – the former New Zealand Under 20s, Blues and Western Force midfielder should add some much- needed balance and composure to the backline.
MIDFIELD THRUST Winston Stanley will give Northland much presence where they need it.