Fitting end to Cooper’s Taranaki tenure
There will be little time for reflection in Colin Cooper’s final season as Port Taranaki Bulls coach.
Cooper will take charge of the Bulls for the last time in the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup before heading to the Chiefs from the 2018 Super Rugby season. And the Mitre 10 Cup draw, which has been released today, has ensured it is going to be a busy, and fitting, end to his amber and black career.
There’s a home match against Waikato, following last season’s frustrating drawn Ranfurly Shield challenge, a home clash with Tasman, who Taranaki lost to twice in 2016 including the Mitre 10 Cup semi-final, an away match against old nemesis Wellington and, to top it off, a possible shield challenge against Canterbury.
There’s also the tough task of playing three games in nine days in the week leading into the playoffs.
“We have a good start to the season with a week turnaround for the first five games, but it will be difficult playing three games in nine days heading into the semis,” Cooper said.
“Hopefully if injuries are under control and we bank enough points beforehand we should be OK. It’s going to be about managing people – we have the experience in the management group and experienced players to cope with it, and we have good depth and talent across the squad.”
Cooper said the season’s goal was to again make the top four.
“It has to be. We have retained a number of players and brought some talented local players back, the likes of Jordie Barrett, Ricky Riccitelli and Logan Crowley, so we have got a really good group of men. Hopefully we will be playing good enough rugby and playing well enough to our patterns to deal with the busy season and reach the playoffs again.”
While it will be Cooper’s final season in charge in a tenure that has included a Ranfurly Shield win in 2011 followed by seven defences, numerous semi-final appearances, and the national championship title in 2014, the respected coach is focusing on the job at hand.
“It’s not about me or what has happened in the past, it’s about the team and what we want to achieve this year,” he said.
The season kicks off with a home game against Waikato on Saturday, 19 August at 5.05pm. Last year, the Bulls went to Hamilton for a Ranfurly Shield challenge and came home frustrated after a 20-20 draw, which included a disallowed try. A win first up will put them in good stead when they travel to Westpac Stadium the following Saturday, 26 August, to take on traditional foe Wellington in a 2.35pm kick-off.
A week later at 7.35pm, on Saturday, 2 September, the Bulls host Counties-Manukau, before they head north to take on Auckland in a 2.35pm match on Saturday, 9 September.
Matches against Championship sides Bay of Plenty (7.45pm, Friday, 15 September in New Plymouth) and Hawke’s Bay (7.35pm, Saturday, 23 September, away) follow before Taranaki get a chance to avenge their 41-29 Mitre 10 Cup semi-final defeat to Tasman last year in a 7.35pm Thursday match at Yarrow Stadium on 28 September.
What follows is three matches in nine days, beginning with a possible Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury in Christchurch at 7.35pm on Friday, 6 October. Last year’s Mitre 10 Cup winners, Canterbury have four challenges scheduled before the Bulls visit, including against Waikato, so only time will tell if the shield will be up for grabs at AMI Stadium that Friday night.
The Bulls have a four-day break before hosting Manawatu at 7.35pm on Wednesday, 11 October, and then only three days off before taking on North Harbour at North Harbour Stadium at 2.35pm on Sunday, 15 October.
The playoffs are held the following weekend – Friday, 20 October and Saturday, 21 October. The Championship and Premiership finals are on Friday, 27 October and Saturday, 28 October respectively.
Taranaki Rugby chief executive Mike Collins said the union was looking forward to a great season of Mitre 10 Cup rugby and the chance to recognise Cooper’s long and successful contribution to Taranaki rugby.
“It is going to be an exciting season with some fantastic clashes both home and away. We have a really strong management team and playing group and I know there will be a real desire within the squad to make sure Colin’s final season in charge a success,” Collins said.