Northland 2021 Review


Where to start?

I start with the not so great and go from there!

What a disappointment most of our play was this year!

We lacked direction, we lacked tactics, we lacked ideas and the ability to adjust our game as it evolved and moved.

Too many players just looked like this level of rugby was beyond them, which I don’t truly believe is the case because when this squad was named, I looked over it, with only a few names jumping out at me as ones I was sceptical of.

Granted covid had a big impact on our season, to who we played, where we played, but it should not have affected how we played, individually I think we have alot of very good players, but as a team we just were not upto it.

I think some of how we played came down to conditioning, many of our players looked unfit, not just shape, but deep in the game players looked short on gas.

Again, that 3 or so week break at home however many weeks into the season wont have helped, but this is where our coaching team should have been onto some of our players, plenty turned up to pre-season looking out of shape, those are the ones the coaching team needed to take a special interest in during lockdowns.

Sure, personal responsibility and all, but the way these guys perform on the park reflects on the coaching team, and right now, that reflection cannot look very good at all.

Onto the team…

The Front Row

Jordan Olsen is a warrior, I love the way this guy plays, how he gives it his all, I do have question marks over his leadership, but I think with no Tom, he was the right option. Thought this was his best season I can recall for lineout throwing. Given it seems like Super Rugby will continue to evade him, I’m not sure how much longer he will stick about.

Ross Wright, another player I love seeing run around with the Kauri on his chest, still puts in the mahi and does his core job at prop or hooker, even if he is slowing a bit.

Corey Te Whata-Colley, bit of a mixed bag for me, looked so strong in all aspects at times through the season, while struggling with the same aspects at other times, sometimes in the same game! Reckon he has the potential to make the step up if given.

Justin Davies, this dude is the epitome of a Northland Taniwha! Started the season contemplating not even turning our for Ngati Hine Moerewa United Kawa Kawa, to have then started for the Taniwha for the first time in many years, showing there is some heart in there was great to see!

Luatangi Li, not too dissimilar to CTC. At times he looks the business, then lapses and e looks out of his depth, and I reckon a lot of this is to do with his fitness, which was sorely lacking!!

Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, I love what this guy brings to the game, the enthusiasm, the energy and an all round game with some soft skill, sure it needs polish, but gee there is some potential in this kid!
He just needs to get fit and if he can, I think he has the potential to be a starting super player and then who knows!

Leka Tu’Ungafasi didn’t get alot of minutes, but looks a good prospect with a good skillset.

Ben Tou, looks good on the carry, but again, looks way out of shape and the core role of a hooker was sorely lacking.

Mason Hohaia, struggled for gametime, rode the pine a lot, personally think he is a little on the small side to play hooker at this level, but if he gets more gametime, who knows.


Locks

The rockstars of our team this year this year!

Josh Goodhue, in probably his best season, looking better and better all over the park, but now he sits on the sidelines possibly contemplating his future (speculation on my part after his latest head knock) for me, he was our player of the season.

Sam Caird, while he missed the start of the season, he slotted in seamlessly and was a great partner to Goodhue, showing improved physicality, his nice turn of pace and willingness to put his body on the line, I really hope he picks up a super gig, reckon he would make great strides in a good environment.

Liam Hallam-Eames started alongside Goodhue until Caird came back, and he looks the business! One of those guys who always gets stuck in, does all his grunt work, but has the ability to the flashy stuff when it comes his way, be great if he sticks around.

Terepai King & Allan Craig didn’t really have much of a chance to prove themselves, either way, which is a shame as both look players with potential.


Loosies

The loss of Tom before the season started was huge, not only his play, but his leadership.

Kara Pryor came in late, but the professional he is, slotted in seamlessly. Looks to have lost a shade of pace, but seemed to play a bit more controlled this year, not quite as many of the lapses he is prone to given the high speed game he plays.

Sam McNamara is a worker, might not set the world alight, but he is the guy who you want in your team as he works tirelessly on attack and defence with a high degree of accuracy. Started a bit slow after coming off a long injury lay off, but he built nicely as the season spluttered along.

Tevita Faukafa was a bit of a surprise, not so much in his physicality because he had that in spades for Western Sharks, but more that he played 8 and put in some good shifts, as I am lead to believe he has not played very much rugby there at all! Definitely looks a good prospect worth developing further.

Rob Rush shown enough to hopefully keep around, although not sure 7 is the right spot, I think 6 would be where he is best suited.

Isi Manu showed glimpses of his talent, but had the 3 week ban (that turned out to be about 6 or 7 weeks with lockdown) but is off to Japan. Jonah Mau’u also showed glimpses of his talent, but just didn’t get a lot of chances. Raikabula Momoedonu is someone with huge wraps on him, but for me, didn’t really show much at all, I expect his involvement with Moana Pasifica will speed his development in 2022, and if back in Cambridge Blue will be much better for it.


Inside backs

Sam Nock was once again at the forefront of a lot of Northlands play, sometimes that wasn’t the good stuff either, but he is a classy player, one moment that stood out was the sublime cut-out ball in traffic vs Southland to Ranger, that was reminiscent of Aaron Smith. Has the tools to be a top drawer 9, but needs to do so consistently at the higher level.

Will Grant is an able understudy to Nock, offers a bit more of a threat with ball in hand, didn’t get a lot of chances, but the ones he did, he took.

Rivez Reihana is a player who looks like he has the game to go up the next level, but after a good start to the season, had a couple of less than memorable games, and was shuffled between 10 and 15 and seemed to lose confidence showing only glimpses of his talent. Big work on is defence.

Dan Hawkins, as a player, I am not a fan, he is very limited, and the game plan we seem to play with him out there, is one that requires someone with a lot more pace than he has (this probably goes on the coaching team?) so makes me feel like they arent even getting the best of him.
Something I don’t like is how he sits so deep behind his 9, and with our pedestrian ball movement from there, we are too often caught behind the gainline. On defence, for a little guy, he is fearless, this aspect of his game that is very good. As a person, the interactions I have had with him off the park, and from what I hear about him, sounds like a top bloke, so can see why you’d want a guy like him in the team.

Johnny Cooper for me, looks a player with all the tools, but he also looks like he is lacking confidence. Had some very average moments, but also in his brief minutes, showed some nice touches too. IMO he was messed about last year by the coaches, this year not much different.


Mid-field

Rene Ranger our newest centurion. Despite breaking his arm in round one, covid gave him time to get back and he was good this year, showing he still has what it takes, the power, the eye for a gap and always a menace at the breakdown. What I liked about Ranger this year, was he seemed to play with a bit more control, looks like plenty left in the tank to add to his tally next year if he wants it!

Scott Gregory the enigma. After a stellar Super campaign, I had huge hopes of him being a mid-field rock for us, alas, he really struggled. Handling errors, defensive lapses and not his strong self on the carry, then injured and didn’t play any further. I expect this was just a blip, and next year he will be much better.

Tamati Tua, AKA Mr Glass. If this guy can string together games, and then seasons without an injury, he will cement a starting spot here, and push at higher levels. Has all the tools; speed, strength, pass and tackle, although does have lapses sometimes. It is easy to forget he is still only 23, so still a lot of developing to do!

Blake Hohaia is another player I haven’t made a secret of not being a fan of. I think often he simply tries too hard, takes the wrong option or maybe pushes the 50-50 far too often. I have criticised him for always rushing out of the line on defence, but when he isn’t there, Ranger does it, so I am assuming this is part of the game plan, which often seems to have him playing as if he is Laumape type of player.

Kalani Going got limited minutes, looks comfortable enough without setting the world on fire.


Outside Backs

Jone Macilai showing there was plenty of life in him yet! A menace with ball in hand, so strong and well balanced, a bit guilty of some loose carries or pushing passes, but when he got the ball he made metres. For some reason, was subbed early when he was our biggest attacking threat in a few games.

Pisi Leilua probably played the most minutes out of all the backs aside from Sam Nock. Going forward, Pisi is a good runner, strong, elusive and makes some good decisions, but on defence, gee, he looks lost and one time he literally run around in circles! Having seen him play a bit at club level, he does a lot of talking there, so he seems to have the nous, so I wonder if he somehow struggles with the patterns expected of him?

Jordan Hyland didn’t get a lot of time this year, certainly looks to have lost a yard of pace. Noah Cooper is a solid player, will never set the world alight, but I thought he acquitted himself well in his outing earlier, only to be dropped the following week. Renata Roberts-Te Nana got a bit of time, looks to have put on a bit of size and was strong in contact, but didn’t get a lot of time. Brady Rush also spent most of the seaosn watching, still finding his feet at this level, clearly talented and pace given his 7s experience.


Final word

For our backs, one thing that has been noticeable for the past few years, I suspect longer given Konia has been involved for several years now, is how narrow we defend. Our outside back is often 15m in field, we are always offering opposition the width of the park, and they make such easy metres outside on us, it sets us on the back foot so early in phases it is tough to bounce back from.

As mentioned above, we often set up way too deep, and get caught well behind the gain line, which if we are setting targets for our forwards, is likely to not be where they are expecting, meaning that split second adjustment can be the difference between a good cleanout or a turnover.

Our set piece worked well this year, but other aspects of our forward play struggled, I think we have good players across the park , but as a whole we don’t seem to play well as a team, and to me, this raises serious questions about the coaching.

So yeah, kinda glad that is over, but as always at the end of a Northland season, look back and wonder at what could have been and what could be…

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