Thursday, 19 October 2017
Bulls call on crowd support for semifinal clash
The Port Taranaki Bulls are looking to a big crowd to give them an edge when they take on Tasman in a blockbuster Mitre 10 Cup semifinal at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday night.
“Our advantage is our fans,” Port Taranaki Bulls coach Colin Cooper said. “Tasman are a very good side, so having a lot of home support is very important. To play a semifinal here in front of a big crowd really gives the team a boost.”
That crowd backing will be vital against an opponent the Port Taranaki Bulls are now regularly meeting in the playoffs. In 2014 Taranaki beat Tasman in the premiership final, while last year Tasman came to New Plymouth and got the better of the Bulls in the semifinal.
Cooper and assistant coach Willie Rickards have acknowledged that hard-fought rivalry by naming a powerful side for Saturday’s clash.
The bulk of the team played in the three games leading up to last weekend’s North Harbour match – the regular season win against Tasman, the successful Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury and the first shield defence against Manawatu – and return for the semifinal having had a chance to recover and rest.
“We’ve got a settled team and we were fortunate to be able to give a number of players who have had a heavy workload this season a much-needed rest against North Harbour last weekend,” Cooper said. “From what we’ve seen at training this week, the break has done them good – the group are fresh and hungry to play.”
Hooker Ricky Riccitelli, who was named Port Taranaki Bulls forward of the year at Taranaki Rugby’s awards this week, packs down in a well-performed front row alongside props Mitchell Graham and Angus Ta’avao, who was named Taranaki Rugby personality of the year.
Experienced duo Kane Thompson and Leon Power are the locks, with blindside flanker Pita-Gus Sowakula, openside Lachlan Boshier and No 8 Toa Halafihi forming a familiar and powerful loose forward trio.
Their outstanding combination this season was recognised at the awards, with Sowakula, who has been a colossus in his debut season, named Port Taranaki Bulls most promising player, and Halafihi, who has been dynamic both on attack and defence, acknowledged with the top award of Port Taranaki Bulls player of the year. He was also named the players’ player of the year.
“Toa has been consistently performing every game and it’s been great as a coach to watch him get better and better. He’s really earned the award and I’m thrilled for him,” Cooper said.
Reuniting in the halves are halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Port Taranaki Bulls back of the year, first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta, who has showcased his range of skills this season in a number of quality displays. He came off early against Manawatu due to a lower leg injury but has recovered and will start.
After a couple of match-winning appearances off the bench and a shift to fullback last week, Charlie Ngatai returns to captain the team from second five-eighth. He will have Sean Wainui outside him, with Seta Tamanivalu on the left wing and Declan O’Donnell on the right. Marty McKenzie returns to fullback having been rested for the North Harbour game.
On the bench, Donald Maka, Jared Proffit and Reuben O’Neill provide the front row cover, Fin Hoeata and Adrian Wyrill are the lock and loose forward reserves, and halfback Kylem O’Donnell, midfielder Johnny Fa’auli and wing Jackson Ormond cover the backline.
Ormond broke his leg during the Taranaki club season and had his first game back in the loss to North Harbour on Sunday. He gets another opportunity with winger Manasa Mataele unavailable because of a bruised shoulder he suffered against Manawatu.
The Port Taranaki Bulls have scored a record 56 tries this season, eclipsing the 48 they scored in the title-winning 2014 season, and while Cooper said the team wouldn’t change their expansive style of play for the semifinal, they had to ensure they did the basics first.
“We have to have good quality ball to play an expansive game and that comes from players doing their key roles well, carrying strongly, being accurate, getting good go-forward ball and making good decisions about when to go wide,” Cooper said.
“Defensively we must respect them. They are a good side and we have found them tough to beat in the past. They have a good scrum, have a lot of individual talent, and a great coaching team with a lot of experience, so we’ll have to be at our best.”
Cooper said after the loss to Tasman in the semifinals last year, there was determination to correct that in 2017.
"A home semifinal is not enough for this group. There’s a strong mindset to perform well and win in front of our fans,” he said.
Port Taranaki Bulls team to play Tasman, at 7.35pm, Saturday 21 October, at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth: