The return of a trio of key players holds the Canterbury Cobras in good stead to make it a four-peat of AFL national titles this weekend, according to coach Harry Peterson.
The Cobras won their first NPC in Christchurch in 2010 before they defended their title the last two years, in Auckland and Wellington, to become the first side to win three national championships in a row.
Peterson said the balance of youth and experience in the Canterbury squad will give them an edge at Christchurch's ntsGatnte Westminster Park this weekend, with Alban Beaumont, James Stevenson and James Bowden all available after stints in Australia.
''When Alban Beaumont contacted me that he was coming back I was stoked,'' said Peterson.
''He's been training with Box Hill Hawks in the feeder group to the AFL in Melbourne and has been playing in the ACT.
''James Stevenson has had a really good year with amateurs in Melbourne and having Bowden back is huge for us because you don't get a league medal named after you if you can't play.''
Cobras wing Levi Inglis, who debuted for the New Zealand Hawks under-18 side in October, is looking forward to playing his second nationals and said the experienced players add a lot to the team.
''You learn a lot of things as a young player. I've learnt a lot off them and they definitely give your team a good boost so it's great to have a bit of leadership out there,'' said Inglis.
The Cobras side contains a strong physical presence with defender Johnny Fisher sure to be prominent in any tussles while Canterbury AFL Best and Fairest winner Sean Butler and Nick Fisher will give them a speed edge around the ground, said Peterson.
''Johnny is an intimidating character. The good thing about him is he has got the build and aggression to be able to back up his actions on the field. He knows what I expect from him, I will not condone him going in and belting somebody. I will however condone him going out there and shutting down somebody.''
Auckland and Wellington are expected to be the biggest threats to the Cobras and Peterson has plans in place to counter them.
Otago are the least experienced side in the competition and Peterson said ntsGtheynte will add a different dimension to the tournament.
Christchurch Bulldogs defender Craig Varcoe, who suffered a serious knee injury in the CAFL grand final, is a late withdrawal from the side after he pulled up sore following a training session last week.
CANTERBURY COBRAS SQUAD
Todd Andrews (c), Johnny Fisher, Nick Fisher, James Bowden, Chris Murray, James Stevenson, Steve McCarron, Isaac Williams, Kyle Smith, Josh Robles-McGill, Alban Beaumont, Levi Inglis, Jared Court, Callum McKenzie, Jamie Exeter, Tom Satterthwaite, Mitch Harding, Toby Foley, Paddy Smith, Wayne Sullivan, Jacob Skye-Thomson, Neil de Joux, Alex Frew, Sean Butler, Justin Kent, Matt Crighton. Noah Whitehead (Emergency).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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