Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper says there would be no more fitting send-off for Port Taranaki Bulls coach Colin Cooper than a national championship victory in 2017.
Cooper will lead the Port Taranaki-sponsored team for the final time in this year's Mitre 10 Cup before taking up a position as Chiefs head coach from the 2018 Super Rugby season.
“Colin has been a fantastic coach and has led the Port Taranaki Bulls to tremendous success in recent years,” Guy says. “He has a knack of finding and developing players who have gone on to play for the All Blacks, Maori All Blacks and Super Rugby sides, and he has taken Taranaki to new levels as a title contender every season.
“We've been incredibly proud to be associated with the team, who have represented Taranaki fantastically well both on the field and off it, and it would be great if Colin could leave with another national championship title.”
The Port Taranaki Bulls have plenty of hard work ahead of them to achieve that, including a home match against Waikato to kick off the season, a home clash with Tasman, who Taranaki lost to twice in 2016 including the Mitre 10 Cup semifinal, an away match against old nemesis Wellington and, to top it off, a possible Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury.
The toughest part of the season will be playing three games in nine days in the week leading up to the playoffs.
“As principal sponsor, we're really looking forward to supporting the team again,” Guy says. “There is a great base of senior, experienced players in the squad and young, up-and-coming talent. Plus the coaches have recruited well, with the likes of Ricky Riccitelli, Logan Crowley and Scott and Jordie Barrett all coming back to Taranaki – although with Scott in the All Blacks we are unlikely to see him in Taranaki colours this year, and sadly Jordie is now out for the season because of a shoulder injury.”
The Port Taranaki Bulls' home schedule kicks off with the match against Waikato on 19 August, then a game against Counties-Manukau on 2 September. The Bulls host Bay of Plenty on 15 September, and Tasman on 28 September, before the final regular season home game against Manawatu on 11 October.
As well as making the playoffs, the other highlight of the season will be a possible Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury in Christchurch on 6 October. Canterbury have four challenges scheduled before the Port Taranaki Bulls visit, so only time will tell if the shield will be up for grabs at AMI Stadium that Friday night.