The Year of the Taniwha.. sort of
It is an odd sort of feeling as I sit and reflect on our 2022 season.
After years of enduring record losses, multiple winless seasons, sitting at the foot or near the foot of the table year after year, and always being pointed at as a team that doesn't deserve to sit at the top table of NZ rugby.
In 2022, Northland have had their best season they have had in quarter of a century:
- First time since 1997 we have won 6 games in the RR
- First time since the NPC began in 1976 Northland beat Auckland in Whangarei
- First time since 2000 we beat Wellington in Wellington
We pushed a strong Canterbury team pretty close in Christchurch in a quarter final too, and yet, as I do every other year, I sit and think about what could have been!
On paper, when you look over our squad, I think the quarter finals were actually par for the course, with probably one of the stronger squads we have fielded in many a year.
We started the season with a grinding win over Taranaki in New Plymouth that was built around defence, and it was here that this team surprised a few, including myself.
After 4 rounds, Northland had the best defence in the comp, conceding the fewest points and tries of any team, after facing Taranaki, Wellington, Waikato & Auckland no less...all signs pointing to former Northland lock and new defence coach, Marty Veale adding some steel.
Then we had a good 45 mins against Canterbury where a glimmer of another upset was on the cards, and then all of a sudden, all the good we had been doing, vanished, and Canterbury put us to the sword.
This would be the same against NH, a mixed 45 mins, only to be destroyed in the final part of the game, Tasman similar.
We were probably fortunate at this point, in the middle of storm week, BOP strategically opted for an under strength team that we snuck past thanks to a clutch penalty by Dan Hawkins.
Leaving us only to beat a winless Manawatu to take us into the quarter finals, that we did.
But the odd thing for me,is that from that 2nd half v Canterbury, right through to large parts of the BOP game, is that team looked different to the one that had preceded the Canterbury meltdown, we looked like the unorganised, uncoached team that managed a solitary win in 2021.
In the quarter final of the new format, we hit an experienced Canterbury side at home; a team as accustomed to winning finals footy, as we were to not even play finals footy!
After 10 mins it looked like it'd be a rout, but we dug deep and fought, and at about 65 mins, that glimmer of an upset showed itself again, but it wasnt to be.
So again, I go back to the fact that on one hand, this has been our most successful campaign for 25 years, yet I genuinely think we could have done better!
I have not been a big fan of our coaching team (with the exception of Veale who joined this year) from what I see and hear around the place, they certainly don't seem to have gotten the best out of our squad, and even the region when it comes to players and development!
Too often we looked like a club team in our early season games, minimal fitness, minimal game plan and still getting to know one another and how each plays.
As above, on paper, this team was as strong as we have put together for many years, so in my opinion, a quarter final was where we should have been, but as with previous years of disappointment, you kinda just expected us to under-perform, again.
For the most part, this squad was fitter than we have been for some time, and you could tell where deep in games we were still making tackles and pressuring opposition (previously mentioned games aside)
I think our squad props still lack the required fitness, in particular Corey Te Whata-Colley...I love watching this guy play, he loves the contact with and without the ball, and seems to really enjoy playing yet he seemed to fade in and out of games, particularly scrums, and I put this down to his fitness, O'Donnell and to a lesser extent Puafisi could do with improving their fitness too.
While we have had injuries, most notably Tom Robinson, Chris Apoua, but Josh Moorby for a few games, Matt Moulds, Sam Caird, Jack Goodhue (who may or may not have had an AB recall) spent time on the sidelines, but the gaps were largely filled, and players stepped up.
A few players have had breakout seasons, specifically Rob Rush and Heremaia Murray, Rivez Reihana had easily his best season for us with consistent starts, Jonah Mau'u was very good, Alan Craig finding his feet, Esile Fono and Tama Anderson got a taste for this level too.
Others found a new lease of life, like Jone Macilai, Matt Matich (although it was always there, just not selected last year) and Jared Adams, while others continued to build on previous years work like Tamati Tua, Josh Goodhue & Liam Hallam-Eames, and there was also Ofa Tu'ungafasi who I never expected would actually pull on a jersey, but did, and he certainly wasn't there making up numbers!There does seem some good stuff going on at lower levels now too, with decent U16 and U18 rep/development programmes running this year, our dev side had a couple of hit outs, ideally should have had more, but small steps and hopefully this will start to show through in the coming years.
I dont want to celebrate mediocrity but also cant ignore the good we did this year, so all in all, a solid season, with an asterix, as always, about what could have been!
2022 Northland Player Ratings
Thought I’d do a bit of a blurb as I used to do in the past with regards to ratings. These are my opinions only and don’t expect everyone to agree with them. Some players didn’t feature enough to gain a rating but I’ve included them anyway.
Ratings are out of 10.
Jared Adams - 7: impressed with this pick up in the off-season. He is a good ball runner and shows a surprising turn of speed. Held his own in set piece but perhaps not as strong as some of our others there.
Elise Fono - 5: definitely in the development phase still, but you can tell he’s going to be good as he gets older and stronger. Would have learnt a lot rubbing shoulders with guys like Ofa Tuungafasi. Got dusted in scrums, but as mentioned he will only get better.
Conan O’Donnell - 4: showed some vigour against Southland with ball in hand but did not really push on as I thought he might. Set piece a problem.
Sila Puafisi - 7: I liked this guy. His scrummaging was very powerful and never let the team down. Not sure about fitness levels, but man is he strong. Hopefully we can keep him on deck for another year at least.
Coree Te Whata-Colley - 6: only let down is fitness, but he ticks every other box. If He can work hard in the off season he will go places. Love his aggressiveness, doesn’t back down to anyone.
Ofa Tuungafasi - 9: Had four outings and did not ease off the accelerator at all as some All Blacks do when returning to provincial duties. Just having him there lifted others too and you could see it. Ironically all games he was involved in were victories plus the fiery scrapping performance in the quarter final loss to Canterbury.
Bruce Kauika-Petersen - 5: Looked the goods in the early rounds but fell away a bit towards the end. His lineout throwing was his main downfall. I do like him however, and if he can polish those weaknesses he will be good value in years to come.
Matt Moulds - 7: such a good leader and superb around the field. Lineout throwing has always been an issue hence his rating being a bit lower than it should have been. Hopefully we see him next year.
Ross Wright - 5: the centurion showed up for another round of NPC footy and covered prop and hooker as he’s done a lot of the years. Didn’t really standout too much and fitness looks as though it’s slid. Put in a decent showing in the quarter final which was likely his last game.
Sam Caird - 5: spent over half the season on the injury list so didn’t really get to show his wears. The guy is a a class player at this level, and showed that in glimpses, but he obviously wasn’t 100% this year and that reflected on occasion.
Allen Craig - 6: Developing into a really good player. We’ve got to remember he is only very young and as the years go by we will no doubt see him climb the ranks. I like the cut of his jib and see him as a mainstay in our pack in years to come.
Josh Goodhue - 7: Was hanging by all sorts of threads all season long but kept throwing himself about. Has developed into a class senior member of the team and a real reliable weapon when things get tough. Sad to see him leaving for Japan, but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him in Cambridge Blue.
Liam Hallam-Eames - 7: absolute toiler and aggressive to boot. I like this guy. He’s no thrills and you won’t see him in the flash stuff, but he does his job and does it well. Hopefully he gets rewarded with a Super contract. Got to be on the must sign again list.
Matt Matich - 8: how good to see him back after getting some raw deals with selections in the past. Has shown his leadership value as well, and with Tom Robinsons continuing injury woes I’d like to see him perhaps get rewarded with captaincy on a permanent basis. Never stops trying and will be in the thick of it for 80 minutes.
Jaycob Matiu - 5: probably didn’t see him as much as predicted this year, but that’s testament to good healthy competition in the loose trio. We all know he’s a bruising runner and showed that on occasion this year.
Jonah Mau’u - 7: pretty much made the 7 jersey his own and put in some massive efforts. He’s definitely a player that with a bit of fine tuning will become a high value addition to any squad. Would love to see him work on his jackling over the ball more as he’s the perfect build for it.
Sam McNamara - 6: always gives 100%. Not a flashy type player, but very dependable. Had a few injury concerns this year and featured a bit more sparingly than he has in the past.
Tom Robinson - No rating: only featured twice by my count against Waikato and Auckland. Created the crucial turnover which killed off Auckland but you could tell he wasn’t running on all cylinders. Head knocks are very concerning for him moving forward.
Rob Rush - 9: my player of the year. How good was he! I was concerned when Tom Robinson didn’t feature but Rush stepped in and really stole the show. The aggressiveness and fitness of this guy is outstanding and we are sure to see big things from him in the future.
Trent Hape - no rating: got a small cameo against BOP and didn’t disappoint. Not sure of the his plans moving forward, but I’m sure he’ll get more of an opportunity next year.
Lisati Milo-Harris - 7: really stood out in his earlier outings and actually outshone Sam Nock, came back to the pack a bit towards the end of the season but still looks classy. Hopefully he shows up again next year as he has potential to be the number one halfback.
Sam Nock - 5: wasn’t his best year by his standards. Had a few shockers in particular against North Harbour where he had three box kicks charged down which lead either directly of indirectly to tries. Turned it on against Canterbury in the quarter in what was his best showing. Still frustrates with the occasional slow service and bad decisions. We all know he’s way better than he’s been showing!
Johnny Cooper - no rating: only featured twice by my reckoning and didn’t show out at all. Had a lot of early promise when he arrived back in Northland, but hasn’t kicked on.
Dan Hawkins - 6: I’ll put my hand up and say I’ve given Dan a lot of crap over the years, but what we saw this year was way better. I like his role off the bench and he seems to have matured into a bit of a leader as well. Was involved in some clutch moments this year with his kicking. Would not be adverse seeing him go another round in 2023.
Rivez Reihana - 8: Had a way more settled year this year as he wasn’t mucked around between fullback and first five like last year. Has really grown into the role of backline general. Has a good kicking game, but the most impressive part for me is his ability to run the at the line and his defence. He is not a 10 the forwards have to protect!
Kalani Going - no rating: hardly featured and got one start against BOP where he was very solid. Good straight hard runner who makes good decisions. Copped a raw deal from the coaches this year. I really hope he sticks around as he will get more opportunities under a new coaching team.
Jack Goodhue - no rating: only featured in two games (Waikato and Wellington). Showed his usual class in both, however would have kicked himself for spilling a pass against Waikato which likely would have lead to a match winning try. Defensive organisation was very valuable against Wellington.
Blake Hohaia - 3: Not going to be too rough here, as I and others have done that enough throughout the season. Not sure what he’s done to continually get selected, had some absolute howlers throughout the year which culminated in his reckless mid air tackle in the quarter final. Either he has a miraculous turnaround in form or he’s not selected at all next year. Had some good touches against Southland but that’s about it.
Rene Ranger - 5: probably the last rodeo for Ranger this year. Definitely showed his age on several occasions and was often guilty of taking wrong options. Had glimpses of his old self though and that was evident against Canterbury in the quarter with some good turnovers. What a servant he’s been though and will be forever one of our greats.
Tamati Tua - 8: my standout back this year. Has really worked hard on his game and become one of our premier players. Strong in the tackle and makes good decisions. I understand he’s off to the Brumbies but sure hope he’s still available for Northland as well.
Pisi Leilua - 3: not a smart player. Has the physical attributes but makes some shocking decisions. Often wanting on defence and seems to have no spacial awareness. If for some reason he can identify his weaknesses he could turn it around, but not likely form all evidence so far.
Jone Macilai - 8: How good has Jone been this year. He’s like a fine wine who keeps getting better. He’s gone from a thin wiry speedster to a power winger over the years. Often defies physics with his busts down the wing. I really hope we can squeeze few more seasons from him. Would not go astray in a super team again either.
Josh Moorby - 7: a very good signing for Northland. Started the season very strong and showed his obvious class. Very good positioning at the back and a good tactical kicker. Faded a bit after he came back from injury but still very solid. I understand other unions are chasing him and it would be a travesty if Northland don’t get his signature for another two seasons at least. Would be quite rank of him to disappear after one season anyway.
Heremaia Murray - 8: outstanding season and up there with one of my players of the season alongside Tua and Rush. Strong, fast and smart, all the attributes you can hope for. Would be equally adept at centre. No surprise that he’s courting interest from Super teams, in particular the Crusaders.
So there it is.. feel free to shoot down or boost up the ratings as you wish!
Moving forward to next year I hope we have a good development plan and set the KPIs even higher for both coaches and players. We can really become one of NZs strongest unions with some fine tuning. My expectations next year would be to go even higher again!
I'm not a hardcore Taniwha supporter, I'm a member of the supporters club but not a season ticket type - imported that I am. But from hwat I have seen ver the last 7 or so years I've lived here and followed the Taniwha, this season should be celebrated. Yes there were some average (read poor) performances, but this is the best ever for NLD! Kai pai boys! It is a pro comp, but not full time pro, and you're going to see inconsitencies in performances. They were no more inconsistent than the mighty All Blacks, and they have no excuses. Certainly a better win/loss ratio.
Northland and Southland are the ultimate poor cousins in the NPC, and any thing like reaching the finals is punching above their weight.
And hopefully even better to come next year with a change in coach
@J77 not too much to argue with there, as I have often wondered re Hawkins, if coaching will be in his future.
People in the know say he has a great ability to read the game, and I have to say his positioning is often very good, it's just his ability is lacking to maybe produce what his mind sees.
I think if he gets another run, he needs to stand it in club footy, because he is blocking the way of someone.
What will be interesting will be who takes on the head coach role next year.
Veale must be at short odds to do so, as I understand Dewes will have additional responsibility with Fiji...clearly dewes has some ability as a coach with our forwards doing some good stuff, but oh man several times when he spoke at halftime...?
I have heard whispers of a fairly well rated NPC coach might be keen, but how true they are, we will see...
Be great if we can back this season up next year and build on it, with our HP centre now and attracting a few of these talented northlanders back might be that touch easier.
@taniwharugby I think Hawkins would be a great coach. I could imagine him starting out helping our younger generation in a development role of sorts.
As for the current coaches, I’d like to see Veale remain either in the same role or even head coach, it should be noted he took New York to the MLR title, so he’s proven he can win championships albeit in that comp which I’d imagine is a wee way below NPC standard.. maybe Heartland?? I never really watched it so can’t make a decent comparison.
As I’ve said before I’d like to think we’ll attract some decent names when it comes time for the applications to open. Would really like to see a person that is not only a good coach, but also a good selector.. those two go hand in hand and we haven’t really seen that with Konia.
From what I’ve seen and heard I don’t think any of our club coaches are ready to step up, so I think there’s a high chance we are going to see someone from outside get this role. I personally don’t care where they’re from as long as they add that icing that we need to progress even further up the table.
We have a foundation there, and it’s a strong one.. it’s just about the fine tuning and getting the right blokes in the right spots now.
Well done fellas loved all your thoughts..
The only thing I will add, I think we missed a trick this year not giving Kalani Going more game time still try to figure out how your club midfield back of the year did not get more game time ..
If you wanted direct , both Going and Tua would have packed a punch
Also I would have loved to have seen Tama Anderson given a crack at fullback when Moorby was out of action .
We sometimes don’t seem to have the confidence in youth ,but if the youth has a ability and game management we need to play them
All the best to those moving on especially Ross Wright and George Konia , Ross has been amazing servant of Northland Rugby and whilst I haven’t always agreed some of George’s selections I will take the opportunity to wish him and his whānau all the best .
Hopefully we can re sign a good percentage of the team and as previously stated there are a couple that will need to get their fitness up to speed .
Hopefully we can get few boys locked into Super Contacts
@Steven-Harris has Ross confirmed his retirement?
Been a fan fave over the years, think he was a back in a props body!
By all accounts top bloke too, thanks Ross.
On Konia, agree also, haven't agreed with alot of what he has done, but I can't imagine coaching at that level is gonna keep everyone happy, by all accounts he is well liked by the players though, go well, enjoy heading home.
@taniwharugby Ross has definitely retired , it was announced at the after match at the Turbos game in Kaikohe
Just hasn’t gone public he’s a good bugger , if he’d got fitter throughout his career he would have played more super rugby
@Steven-Harris the only thing I can think of is that Kalani Going nicked Konias lunch or something. It’s been the biggest head scratcher for me as to how he didn’t get F-All game time. I sure hope Going is resilient and looks forward to next year as his opportunity to step up and claim that 12 shirt.
And big up’s to Ross Wright.. what a stalwart and decent bloke too. Enjoyed his contributions over the years, i even used to mistake him for Rene Ranger sometimes due to his barnstorming runs up field!
@taniwharugby sums up how I feel too. Sort of pleased. The lift from last year was huge. The bits missing for me was the accuracy at lineout time after penalties and attack patterns - no more evident than in quarterfinal when we moved the ball wide to players being tackled behind the advantage line. But all in all mana has been restored. 7/10.
Final wash up of MOTM polls, after the Canterbury game:
Tu'ungafasi 3, Matich 2, Rush 1, Tua 1
Rush clear out in front as our player of the season, by the polls, good to see a number of other players around 4-7 points as well, meaning they put in multiple good performances.
Te Whata Colley 1