Rivals able to merge for Akarana powerhouse

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2013

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Akarana Falcons coach Steve Buckingham is confident he can weld together players from Auckland's top two clubs to create a true force in this year's Pirtek National Championship.

Buckingham, who is also the coach of the Mt Albert Lions, leads an Akarana squad made up mostly of players from his club, and Fox Memorial rivals Pt Chevalier Pirates.

In this year's Fox Memorial Cup final, the Pirates upset the Lions to claim their first Auckland title since 1953.

"There's definitely no ill feeling," Buckingham told Sunday News.

"There seems to be more mutual respect than anything.

"Both teams finished one and two this year, and they've had some very tight games.

"I think the whole aim of the Akarana concept is to pick the best players that are available in Auckland, and all those boys have proven themselves to be the best in the city.

"There's one or two from other sides in the mix as well but, so far, so good."

The Falcons [formerly Auckland Pride] have won all three national championships so far, beating Counties Manakau in 2010 and 2012 and South Island Scorpions in 2012.

This year's side are favoured to make that four on the trot after they opened their season with a 68-0 hiding of Central Vipers last week.

The Mt Albert coach since 2010, Buckingham said the step up to coaching the Auckland-based Falcons wasn't too difficult.

"Watching the national competition in previous years, there's two or three strong teams and a lot of provinces that are struggling - and will struggle.

"Our game last weekend proved that: We beat Central 68-0.

"The quality of football from us was pretty good but it shows the difference in standard the Auckland boys have from the rest of the country."

As a player, Buckingham donned the Warriors jersey twice in the 1997 Super League season, before he became a stalwart for Mt Albert for the next decade, as well as captaining New Zealand A in 2004.

Father Bruce is a long-time coach at Glenora Bears so Buckingham has the pedigree.

Yet the Mt Albert diehard said he isn't getting too far of himself in the coaching game.

"It's taken me four years to get to this point and you still learn at the club level."

Buckingham has two former NRL players in his Falcons squad - former Warriors Tevita Latu and Malo Solomona - while Northcote halfback, and Warriors under-20s star, Sam Cook is also in the mix.

The Falcons will take on Wellington Orcas at Mt Smart Stadium tomorrow.

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