It's go the South Island, no Bull

By GEOFF LONGLEY - The Press

Rugby league fans in Canterbury will have to get used to supporting the South Island instead of the Bulls.

The South Island name has been revived with the introduction of the new national zonal championship starting in late August, with Christchurch being the headquarters for the South Island side which is expected to chiefly comprise Canterbury players.

Seven regions will contest the competition, but the Bulls brand, which has been synonymous with a successful red and black regime for the past decade having made five grand finals, is at least shelved for now.

The scheme has received support from former Bulls coach Brent Stuart, who has also applied to coach the new franchise.

"It is definitely disappointing to lose the Bulls name, especially given the reputation and loyalty that has been built up over the years," Stuart said.

"But the national body has made the change and the challenge is there to develop players from other districts and offer them something to strive for.

"I can see both sides of the argument but it's most important to have a representative championship which we are going to have."

Stuart must stand a strong chance of guiding the South Island after his success with the Bulls having been associated with them for eight years, the past three as coach.

Stuart can recall playing for the South Island in his career and said it was an honour to achieve that.

He recalls the island team once beating the touring Australians at Rugby League Park in 1980.

"There is some tradition and history with it which I think will help get everyone together under the one banner."

A new jersey will also have to be created. Stuart remembered previous South Island strips as white and black.

Stuart said he would expect Canterbury players to comprise the bulk of the squad with perhaps several from the West Coast also being strong contenders.

He was not sure whether the new competition which lasted seven weeks would produce a stronger competition than the Bartercard national premiership it replaced. The top two teams play-off in a final, but there are no semi-finals.

The Auckland region has been split into three areas with Northern (a combination of Northland and North Harbour), Auckland and Counties-Manukau.

"That is effectively splitting one team three ways, but they do have the depth up there."

The Upper Central region comprises Waikato and Bay of Plenty while Mid-Central includes Taranaki and Manawatu. Wellington also retains their identity despite having Hawke's Bay grouped with them.

Steve Martin, general manager of the Southern Zone, said the aim was to provide a pathway for players in their home districts.

He understood the frustration of the Canterbury Rugby League having to see the Bulls name disappear off the provincial landscape and accepted that most players would come from Canterbury.

The idea was also to foster under 17 and under 15 competitions which he believed would include more players from around the regions. Martin said the sport had resumed again in Tasman, many juniors still played on the West Coast, while competition in Southland was under way and Otago would have something organised before the club season finished.

Nominations for selectors and coaches have been called for with appointments likely to be made by the end of the month. Saturday's East v West cross-town clash at Rugby League Park would serve as a likely first trial for contenders.

CUP FUTURE

The new series means Canterbury will continue to hold the Rugby League Cup for provincial supremacy having won it off Auckland last season




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