Northland 2020 review


While it is easy to sit here and be disappointed at losing at the final hurdle, I think we need to step back and look at the season as a whole to get a better idea, and go right back to the start.

I expect if you were to sit down and work through the Team KPI’s at the start of the season, they’d have looked something like this:

Must Achieve: Top 4 finish
Should Achieve: Home Semi
Good Result: Make Final
Excellent Result: Win Final

So a final, no home semi, still a good result in the end.

Then we move onto the games, starting with Manawatu.

There was rust, and cobwebs, understandably, Northland had been isolated in the North with no opportunity to play a pre-season, and it showed.

But as they got into their work, they showed they were a superior team, and put them away.

Tasman were a different prospect, and probably unluckily for Northland, they caught them full strength, if we had got them later in the season, while the result would likely have been the same, I feel the scoreline would have been different; a game we were never expected to win.

Then onto Counties, always a tricky opponent for us, particularly away, but after a shaky opening half, Northland put in an excellent 2nd 40 and deservedly took the game.

A visiting Taranaki team was always a daunting prospect, a team that we know we can beat, but often lose to, and lose large.

But again, the Taniwha dug deep, again in the 2nd half and eased away taking the lollies.

Into town rolled Southland, a team that has struggled over the past few years, a team Northland were expected to dispatch easily, but no one told Southland.

Northland looked like they were ready to pull away, but Southland kept battling on to keep in the fight, and on another day, would have won, but for some stoic defence by the home team, rarely able to exit their own 22, let alone half for the final quarter as Southland continued to attack, wave after wave, but Northland tackled like their lives depended on it.

5 days later, after that monumental defensive effort, Northland were off to HB for a Shield Challenge, but in the end, were well beaten, ruing plenty of missed opportunities, particularly early on.

It was at this point our season changed, we had one of our worst matches in years against an understrength Otago side, and were well and truly beaten.

Then NH rolled into town, on a high after sneaking past Auckland the previous week, and despite being in the fight for the whole match, a late intercept put paid to any Northland win.

Auckland at Eden Park is always a tough prospect, let alone for a Northland side who have only ever beaten Auckland twice in their history, but they were ripe with a few key players out.

Then as if to roll out the welcome mat, a couple of early injuries meant the game was uncontested scrums and Auckland had to play with 14 men!

Unfortunately Northland were unable to capitalise, but little did they know, that losing BP, the first BP they had picked up since round 3, would be crucially important.

A week later on a summer-like day in Kaikohe; Waikato, 2nd on the Premiership table arrived in heart of Taniwha country, and within minutes had the small Northland crowd thinking this was gonna be another one of ‘those days’ a Northland fan is far too used to.

Instead, the Tani’s, sparked up, and in the heat managed to roll Waikato, with a BP to put them into 3rd for the season, something several weeks earlier looked all but gone.


Semi Final

After being well beaten by Otago in the RR match up, this was a different Northland side, off the back of a solid win over Waikato, and sensing they had finally found the right balance in the team, put Otago away to make their first final since last century!!


Final

HB, not only the best team in the Championship, one of the top teams in the entire competition. No one gave Northland much of a chance, even most Northland fans were daring to dream but set up for the reality of HB putting us to the sword.

In patches, we were the better team, but the majority of the 80 minutes, the class of HB shone, both teams will know they left plenty of points out there, but at the end of the day, you cant complain too much when you know you were beaten by the better team.

I’ll leave delving into tactics, subs and the less positive stuff to the coaching team now (for a change haha)

So, now dialling down into the squad


Props

I think Corey Te Whata-Colley has huge potential, but needs to get fit! Solid scrummager, willing ball runner and defender, hopefully we hold onto him.

Ross Wright, a rock in this squad for so many years, had glimpses of his all round game this season, but I wonder if his body is able to keep up, I hope so cos I love watching him run around in Cambridge Blue!

Luatangi Li had a bit of an up and down season, looked very good at times, not so at other times, again, be good to hold onto him!

Tyler Kearns, probably the weakest scrummager of the lot, what little we saw, offers a good amount with ball in hand and defensively, so sort the scrum side out and he could be a winner!

Kalolo Tuiloma, probably the best scrummager of the lot, but poor hands, doesn’t seem to have the impact you’d expect with ball in hand or defensively, and last night, that attempted DG after the whistle when there was still a glimmer of hope with the clock winding down :face_palm:


Hookers

Well, Captain Jordan Olsen. Fantastic player, gives it everything week in week out, unsure how much longer we can hold onto a player of his calibre earning whatever he does playing M10 Cup.

Behind Jordan is a big issue, Atkins seems a good player, but had injury issues and barely any game time, Tou not seen enough to genuinely rate, although not sure he is the strongest scrummager.

Hohaia again, not seen enough to rate, although having seen him a bit at club level, I cant say he stood out there, but some people do thrive when they play up.


Locks

Josh Goodhue, well in some games he was excellent, the semi final in particular he was outstanding, but has had a couple of games where he was less prominent. Hope his body holds up, as time on the park seems key to him getting better.

Waratah-bound Sam Caird, really disappointed he is off, 2nd half of the season he really stepped up, oddly was about the time he wasn’t sharing locking duties with Temo Mayanavanua he came into his own.

Temo Mayanavanu played well, but you have the feeling we never saw the best of him.

Setefano Funaki is a guy who is in and around the squad, doesn’t get many chances, and TBH when he is out there, I don’t notice him (good or bad)


Loosies

An area of strength and depth, although not sure for how much longer.

Tom Robinson, we knew if we could get him on the park for a decent period, he’d do the business, which he did, over and over, with little regard to his own wellbeing, surely only a matter of time before he gets a run in Black. Easily forward of the season, showdown with him and NOck as player of the season.

Kara Pryor was excellent for this season, supposedly only in the dev side, but started every match I think, certainly wound back the clock. Prone to the odd silly error, but you cant fault his work rate.

Matt Matich, I gotta admit has been one of my favourite players over the past few years, just a huge motor on him, might lack a little size compared to his opposites, but you know when he is out there, he will make his tackles, he will carry strongly, and will come off the field spent. If I recall correctly, he was looking at off-shore options last year, so unsure if back next year, which would be a shame, but you cant begrudge these guys making hay while the sun shines.

The young fella Sam McNamara is a fine player at this level, would likely thrive if given an opportunity to player super rugby too, another with a big motor that just keeps going, hopefully a long term prospect for us, captain material too I expect.

Was so good seeing Kane Jacobson playing, has had a lot of issues with concussion symptoms, which is a shame cos this guy oozes class.

We didn’t see a lot of Rob Rush but what we did says he is one for the future. Unlucky to get a YC v Southland in his first appearance (I think it was his first?) where he was singled out by the ref as being off-side, when he was clearly on (others weren’t, but he was) and given the team YC.

Saimoni Uluinakauvadra didn’t feature much, but looks a typical athletic Fijian loose forward

Aorangi Stokes only made a solitary appearance v Auckland, and had a handy outing.


Halfbacks

There is only really one, Sam Nock, outstanding season from him, easily our back of the season, and sits with Big Red as the player of the season. We always knew his passing was top notch, he has a box kick that could come down with snow on it, and he bought some of his pace to a running game, used smarts and was excellent.

Will Grant never really looked good in his minutes off the bench, struggled in his start against Otago in the RR, so I was not looking forward to him starting with Nock injured for the final, but gee, this kid has game! Nice pass, nice kick and also sniped at the right times too!

Harrison Levien looked good in his limited minutes.

Corey Taylor had a nice cameo off the bench in the final.


1st 5

Well, as I have said before, I am not a fan of Dan Hawkins, I don’t think he is upto the speed of this level and his kicking length has always been an issue. He has had some very good moments for us, but for someone who has cracked 50 games, there haven’t been enough! As I also alluded to earlier in the year, I wonder if his calling is in coaching, you can see by his positioning, he reads the game well, but doesn’t seem to have the pace to exploit his reads, although he has made some crucial tackles too by being in the right spot! Tackles his heart out for a little guy!

Johnny Cooper is a young guy who looks the kind of player you want running things, seems calm, appears to have time, so will only get better, hopefully he comes back next season and can build from this, because from the outside, it appears he has been messed about a fair bit!

The enigma that is Wiseguy Faiane. Kid has talent, but similar to Cooper, just wasn’t given the chance to fully develop. After coming on and steering the ship v Manawatu, I thought now is the time to give him the reins, and let him go for a few games, build combos and confidence, but they didn’t, similarly to Cooper.


Centres

I think Blake Hohaia might be done, he really has struggled the past 2 seasons to impose himself, and just isn’t the player the coaches seem to be looking for at 12, well at least how they seem to want to play.

Tamati Tua really looks to have matured this year, such a shame he got injured early on, because once he came back, wow, this is what this kid showed glimpses of 2 seasons ago, now delivering! A few defensive lapses, but these can be ironed out, and I think 12 might be the spot for him.

Rocks and Diamonds Rene Ranger. Sadly this year, more rocks than diamonds. Such a frustrating player to watch this season, did something fantastic only to turn around and make errors and/or a poor decision soon after. I’m glad he is back next season though, he has so much to offer this team still, but my thinking is it might be off the bench!

I know some say he has always played like this, that may be true, but he still has the power, the knack to bust a tackle, to get his hands through a tackle, but he doesn’t have the pace anymore, and plenty of times this year the play stopped at him when he didn’t pass, passed when he should have gone to deck with the ball, kicked when he should have taken contact. I’d just like to see him play with a touch more control and he would be more devastating!


Outsides

Old man Jone Macilai, jeez another rocks and diamonds fella, particularly in the early rounds. But the last 3 or 4 matches there were glimpses of the younger Jone, sure lacking the yard of pace he used to, but he ran hard and was hard to put down!

Pisi Leilua was trucking along playing some solid footy until the Otago match, had a mare, and looked lost after that. He is a good solid M10 Cup player, but lacks a bit of spark to really make that next step up in class.

Jordan Hyland has always been so under used in our teams, a big unit who is hard to bring down and attracts defenders, yet so often we would barely see the ball moved his way. But his late season starts, he was our go to man, to cart the ball up, attract defenders. My understanding is we may not see the big fella with the Kauri on his chest again, if that’s a case, thank you good sir!

Scott Gregory is not a fullback, Scott Gregory is not a fullback, Scott Gregory is not a fullback.

This kid has talent, but he looked out of sorts, low on confidence, missing simple 1 on 1 tackles, poor execution of basics, at fullback. The minutes he got in the centres, we saw some of why he should play there, he looks better closer in, with less time. A combo of Tua-Gregory could be lethal.

Matt Wright is what you want at the back, good positioning, good boot, mostly takes the right options and is still a good runner, if not lacking a touch of pace.

Brady Rush, like Rob, seems a classy player, and one I hope we can hold onto.

I think Northland can stand tall this year, for making the final exceeded what I thought we would, I think both teams will know they left plenty of points out there last night, and from a Northland perspective, given the struggle to score points in rounds 5 through 9, I think it shows they were starting to get some rhythm.

I also gotta say, I loved the afternoon footy, the better conditions of spring, although not sure how much the players enjoy playing in the heat they have in some of these games!

Not sure who of the above is signed for 2021, but as a Tani fan, the future looks just a little brighter

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