Marty Veale will look to build on further the success Northland enjoyed at the last NPC campaign. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Marty Veale’s demeanour and body language gives an idea about the amount of work he needs to get through between now and August to get Northland Taniwha players ready for another gruelling NPC season.
what they also show is a clear plan to get there, having been in the system for a reasonable length of time to know what works and what doesn’t. The former Northland lock and assistant coach took over as head coach from George Konia and consistency is his biggest work-on as he looks to build on from a successful 2022 campaign where the Cambridge blues reached the quarter finals.
Veale is well-travelled and has had a number of impressive playing and coaching stints across the globe, including as an assistant coach for the US Eagles under former All Blacks’ mentor John Mitchell.
“The goal is to win championships and promote players to Super and higher honours. There’s massive work around the potential that has always been here but has never really clicked. Click some games, click for one season but it has not been sustainable. I want it a successful, sustainable programme,” he said during his first interview with the Northern Advocate at the team’s training base on Pohe Island.
Retention of eight players from last year’s squad will be key to replicating last year’s performance – or beating it.
“In previous years, we just have had this huge amount of turnover and players and players who saw Northland as a stopgap. There’s been this big churn of players and I think one thing the organisation has already achieved this year from last year is the retention of the vast number of players.
“So by the time we get to July, when we get back together with our Super Rugby guys, we’re not starting at the ground-zero again. We not having to meet each other for the first time.”
The new Northland Rugby Union facility, he reckons, has a lot to do with being able to show Northland rugby is not going anywhere, that players have a home-base, they are not working out of a building in town they don’t own.
Winning ugly is not ideal but Veale likes the ability of his team to close out game. There were a number of close-runs last year. Taranaki missed a penalty at death, Auckland conceded a late three-pointer at Semenoff Stadium that enabled Northland to win, and an ugly win over Bay of Plenty.
“Northland showed last year they are tough enough to hang in the fight and then when needed, they have people who can step up and kick that winning goal or make that play, win that penalty from that scrum.
“There’s a lot of resilience and a lot of fight in the group. When you can learn how to win ugly in those tight games like that, then I think you’ve got a pretty special group that can do things that no other Northland teams have done before.”
Compared to his playing days, Veale knows the intensity of the game and brutality around defence have gone up several notches. Like players, he knows coaches and the support staff have to adjust accordingly.
“The challenge for coaches is to have strong medical and strength and conditioning teams that get the players into a state of condition we think they can survive a 10-week, high intensity competition.
“Obviously you get damage along the way and it’s making sure you have during this period of the year developed enough talent that when asked upon numbers 24 to 35 can actually step up and help you win the comp.”
He’s keen to spark up the attacking game Northland was renowned for during the days of the Berrymans and the Goings.
“The way the modern game is played, seems you don’t really want the ball. Teams are more comfortable in giving the opposition the ball and then backing their defence and then forcing mistakes and playing transition and winning the territory battle.
“I know that’s not a Northland style. The attacking side of the game is the Northland side that we need to spark up again.”
In defence, Veale said teams now have defensive systems where they preferred double shoulder collisions and being brutal on the gain line.
“Because the collision is so high and the fact you have to train that during the week then you need players that are able to back it up, week after week.
“Obviously we work to a salary cap and we have small squads and you can’t get so many people under the salary cap so you need good medical, good strength and conditioning guys so that these players are robust and bulletproof that you can ask them to go week after week after week, and that’s the nature of the competition.”
Veale is also keeping a close eye on the process around aligning the high performance and Northland Rugby Union’s academy programmes, the identification of talent and how that all fed into the Taniwha team.
Filling up Semenoff Stadium will help the Taniwha get over the gain line.
“For five weeks between August and October, five home games that we have, we’re the number one ticket in town and I’d hope that this group of men and women are playing some exciting football that our community wants to come in and pack Semenoff Stadium out and make it a special stadium in New Zealand,” he said, referring also to the Northland Kauri side.
There will be an added bonus for Taniwha fans, beginning this season.
“We want to be in the community more, we want to be seen more, our training facility is always open for anyone to come out and hang out and ask questions, watch the boys train and get involved.”
There’s plenty of pathways for players to crack into the Northland squad, Veale thinks.
The number of current players playing for Super Rugby franchises is more than ever before and they’ll add value to their province and up-and-coming players working hard in the region, Veale says.
Northland club rugby starts in April and the NPC around mid-August.