Canterbury Bulls team to make a comeback

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2013

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The Bulls are back.

Rugby league authorities have confirmed the Canterbury Bulls will be the South Island's standardbearer in the National Provincial Premiership top grade this season.

The southern zone board has approved the move in principle and a memorandum of understanding is being drawn up with the Canterbury Rugby Football League.

All players in the South Island are eligible to represent the Bulls in the premier grade but the southern zone's 15 years and 17 years team will continue to play under the South Island Scorpions banner. 

The move has been welcomed by CRFL general manager Craig Kerr.

"Since the demise of the Canterbury Bulls, I think the sport has struggled a little bit in terms of its profile and ability to attract sponsorship."

The Bulls were the foremost brand in the former Bartercard Cup season-long national championship between 2000 and 2007. They won the title twice in 2000 and 2003 and were runners-up twice.

The season-long national championship format was abandoned in 2008 and replaced by the Bartercard Premiership competition, a short-season springtime representative competition contested by six provinces.

Former Kiwi Brent Stuart coached the Bulls to the 2009 premiership title but the format changed again in 2010 to a zonal competition featuring each of the New Zealand Rugby League's eight zones. 

The southern zone team played for the first three years as the South Island Scorpions in the Albert Baskerville Shield premier grade.

But some Bulls' stalwarts were less than enamoured with the rebranding and made themselves unavailable for the Scorpions.

Stuart said after he stepped down as coach last year that he thought the Canterbury Bulls should be included.

"I don't really want to be disrespectful towards the South Island but the [Scorpions] side is pretty much Canterbury anyway. Most of the boys would sooner play for Canterbury than the South Island."

The Scorpions did field a handful of players from outside Canterbury, notably West Coasters Blair Sims, Lance McEwen and James Ward and Southland's Byron Curtis, who was selected as a Scorpion after moving to Invercargill from Wellington last year. But the majority of Scorpions players, and the coaching staff, were Christchurch-based.

Kerr said the unavailability of some Canterbury players for the Scorpions was probably because "we are a little bit one-eyed, we Cantabrians".

"If you're going to play in a national competition you want to be representing your province. I can totally understand that.

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"A few [Canterbury players] struggled with the fact the team was called the South Island Scorpions.

"We might get some more interest from some of those who have been a little reluctant to play in the past."

The Bulls will play in Canterbury's traditional red and black colours. All three of their Baskerville Shield home games will be staged in Christchurch. 

Last year, the Scorpions played home games in Nelson and Greymouth. But Kerr said the NZRL had decreed Christchurch should be the home base "because it's World Cup year and don't want to be spending money on expensive flights to get to Nelson, Invercargill or the West Coast".

Former Kiwis back Mike Dorreen, who stepped up to coach the Scorpions after Stuart's retirement last season, would continue as Canterbury Bulls coach, Kerr confirmed.

Applications close on April 29 for coaching positions with the Canterbury representative team to play Wellington in the CRFL's centenary match on Queen's Birthday weekend in June.

- The Press

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