Canterbury Bulls rugby league coach Andrew Auimatagi believes if his forwards muscle-up they could win their first national premiership in four years.
The campaign begins on Sunday against Counties at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.
With just three games in the campaign, a first-up loss would dent their title hopes.
The Bulls finished third last year, one spot out of the final.
“I’ve seen a bit of the Counties boys and we know they’re going to have a big forward pack so winning the battle in the middle third of the ground.”
Auimatagi said while he had in-form attacking options, his experienced forwards including captain James Baxendale, Alex Todd, former St George Illawarra Dragon Rulon Nutira and Jiordan Fidow-Kele will have to set a good platform.
“All those guys have had a lot of success in our game and I know they are capable of winning that battle up the middle,” Auimatagi said.
“A lot of our key players were in form near the end of the club season and we felt naming a squad early gave us the best chance to try to get combinations settled for a fast-paced competition.”
He said the halves duo of Brad Campbell and Toi Sepuloni would be one to watch.
Aumatagi said having two home games was another bonus.
The Bulls have back-to-back home games at Christchurch Stadium in rounds two and three against Waikato and Akarana on September 22 and 29, respectively, meaning a win on Sunday will go a long way to putting them into contention for the final on October 6.
Bulls national premiership draw:
•Sunday, September 16, v Counties, Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm.
•Saturday, September 22, v Waikato, Christchurch Stadium, 2pm.
•Saturday, September 29, v Akarana, Christchurch Stadium, 2pm.