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8 hours ago
Northcote coach Duane Mann rates his side a top five chance for rugby league's Bartercard Cup despite the Tiger's 26-42 loss to Hibiscus Coast in the Roope Rooster semifinals.
The Tigers, a mixture of Fox Memorial and Bartercard Cup players, had trouble getting any momentum in the match at Cornwall Park.
Matters weren't helped when second-rower Jason Kamariera was sent from the field in the final quarter for a spear tackle.
Although disappointed, Mann isn't overly concerned by the result.
The Roope Rooster allowed Mann to gauge how far the Bartercard Cup team, the North Harbour Tigers, is from being a title contender.
And it is business as usual as the Tigers prepare for their first round match against the Eastern Tornadoes this weekend.
"What we needed to find out was how players reacted to a championship side and someone like Hibiscus was always going to be a good challenge for us.
"I think we're a top five contender but we just need to have some self-belief that we are a genuine play-off team."
Mann has had a core group of 19 players training since November.
Most of them played for the club last season and an arrangement has been struck with the Ponsonby club to act as a feeder.
Among the players to watch this season are former Richmond hooker Quincy Ikifana, who played for Northcote last year and has shown impressive pre-season form.
Together with Kamariera, they are making inroads into sealing places in the top side.
Mann is also excited about the prospect of winger-centre Karl Johnson, a member of the Warriors development squad who has also shown good pre-season form.
Prop Ake Aukafolau is also set to make a big impression.
"We're not too far off where we should be," says Mann who is yet to name a captain.
"We've got a good balance of players who played Fox football last year and guys like Jason Duff and Ken McIntosh, who are senior players."
Hibiscus went on to win the Roope Rooster, beating Manurewa 22-20 in the grand final at Cornwall Park on Saturday.
Played in front of an enthusiastic crowd of around 200, the match was hard fought by two committed sides with the lead changing throughout.
Hibiscus battled in the first half and was its own worst enemy, coughing up hard won possession in the face of a physical Manurewa defence.
Despite the errors, which coach Brian McClennan will need to iron out quickly, the North Harbour-based side always looked capable of winning.
But it took a last minute piece of magic from fullback Daniel Floyd to seal the match for the Raiders.
Floyd showed some fancy footwork to jink his way to the tryline from just a few metres out and then kicked the conversion for the win.