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.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Coaches: Der­ren Wit­combe ( head) and Bryce Wood­ward ( tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor)

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.

Ris­ing Star

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.

Old Dog

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.

New Ar­rivals

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.

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