After a couple of nightmare seasons which saw Ponsonby collapse to become one of the worst teams in the Auckland second division, the Ponies have returned a different beast in 2017.
Heading into the fifth week of the Sharman Cup qualification rounds, Ponsonby are three from three and sit atop their group after beating their nearest rivals, Manurewa, 34-18 last weekend.
While there is no doubting the entire Ponsonby squad have shown improvement to date, it’s off-season recruits Aaron Nootai, Daniel Bell and Dion Briggs (pictured above playing for Pt Chevalier) who are being credited for changing the culture of the club this season.
The trio have all come across from Fox Memorial heavyweights Pt Chevalier, having won first-division titles with the Pirates previously, with Ponies coach John Mana speaking of their positive influence.
“The wealth of experience they bring, they have been pushing the boys at training every week and that has made my job a lot easier,” Mana told kiwileaguecentral.com.
“The technique they bring, wrestling in their tackles, the communication they have, that is what is most valuable to us. They also give us genuine ball-playing options.
“Aaron is my cousin so as soon as I got the job he came over and for Dion and Dan it’s their junior club, they are coming to the end of their careers so they just want to come and help out.
“I think the other boys are definitely enjoying their football a lot more these days and are looking forward to what is ahead… it doesn’t surprise me how well we have started given some of the talent we have been able to bring in.”
Averaging 47.3 points scored and just 20 against so far, it’s been a drastic transformation for the central Auckland club who with two rounds remaining in second-division qualifying have already secured their spot in the competition proper which kicks off in May.
Nootai, a former Auckland Vulcans representative in the NSW Cup, praised the playing group for buying into the new team standards set at training and in matches.
“At first to be honest I think they got a bit intimidated, but there is a positive vibe here, so we have tried to change the attitude and make it a real positive environment,” Nootai said.
“I can see it at training that everyone has been boosted by the Manurewa result last weekend.
“The guys who stepped up did an awesome job, the confidence is coming and everyone is playing for the player beside them now.”
Ponsonby take on Ellerslie at Victoria Park on Saturday, with the match kicking off at 2.30pm.
(Main photo: photosport.nz).