The British bulldog is a muscular and hefty fellow - wrinkled face, pushed-in nose, snaggle-toothed and pugnacious.
The Papamoa Bulldog is a smarter, leaner, faster and stronger breed. At least this season.
“There's been an edge to their training we haven't seen in previous seasons. It's been intense,” says Papamoa Bulldogs Rugby League and Sports Club president Joel Tyler. “They won't just be going out to play another game of league each Sunday this winter. They'll be results-focused. And at the highest level.”
Through the summer months, in one far corner of the Gordon Spratt Reserve in Papamoa on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the Bulldogs have been quietly getting about growing the game and growing the club – it's part of a five-year plan.
“A successful plan, because for the first time in our short 14-year history, we will be starting two senior teams this winter,” says Joel. “That's a milestone and it's very exciting for us.” The Papamoa Bulldogs have always played in the reserve grade, or one grade down. Last year they lost the reserve grade final, but it was a signal. And on the back of that result, the club will this season field ‘prems', or a premier grade team, plus a reserves team.
Put it down to a man called Jock, says Joel.
“If you have one passionate person in the mix, they can change anything.”
Jock is James Nicholson. “He is a professional and a leader. And people sense that.”
James or Jock is driving training at Gordon Spratt Reserve. He has played at top level and coached at top level. “He is absolutely what Papamoa Bulldogs needed and where they needed to go,” says Joel, club president off the field and prop or second rower on the field. “Training is a whole new ballgame – much more professional than in recent years. Jock is a winner and he wants to win. That's rubbing off.”
James Nicholson, it seems, has re-energised some players, drawn others back to Papamoa after they'd drifted off to play ‘prems' at other clubs, and has also attracted new and experienced talent to the club. “They all want to be part of Jock's plan.”
And all this is in rugby union Tauranga – league is a struggler in a town where the Steamers and Chiefs rule.
“It's a work in progress, it's tough. But if the Kiwis and Warriors were winning, it would certainly help our cause,” says Joel Tyler. “Eighty per cent of the kids on the street want to be an All Black. And although we are one of the growth areas of league through the upper central zone, we will have to change things if we want kids to aspire to be a Warrior or a Kiwi. But there are signs, little things are coming together.”
For example, the club will this winter boast an under-17s team. It's a feeder grade which means the Papamoa Bulldogs are busy growing a depth of talent they didn't have last year.
“Our juniors are super strong. But the kids play both codes, rugby on Saturday and league on a Sunday. And when they get to the age to compete in the Tai Mitchell Shield, one of the most important events in junior Bay of Plenty rugby, the game days clash and we start to lose them.”
The Papamoa Bulldogs are looking at strategies to keep their young players. “But we can't do it on our own. It has to be a regional or national strategy.”
In the meantime the Papamoa Bulldogs will have their first hit-out of the season against the Morrinsville Bulls on March 10. A week later they will play the Ngaruawahia Panthers – top club in the Waikato division.
Ngaruawahia have been a premier side for years. “They have some very talented players and it will be a very good measure of exactly where we are at the moment,” says Joel Tyler. “It'll be a test but we are aiming high.”
The Papamoa Bulldogs Rugby League and Sports Club boasts as many as 180 members – from four and five-year-old rugby league players through to seniors and three women's netball teams. It has a good, strong heart.
To get involved in a progressive league and sports club go to the Papamoa Bulldogs homepage online: www.sporty.co.nz/papamoabulldogsrlc