Former Fijian international Marika Vunibaka will take over as Leeton’s coach for 2017.
Marika Vunibaka has replaced Seru Rogo as the head of the Phantoms. After coaching Griffith to a Southern Inland premiership three seasons ago, Rogo guided Leeton to preliminary finals in the last two years. Leeton president Bart Challacombe said Rogo has business commitments in his native Fiji and wasn’t able to commit to the role once again. However, Rogo is expected to still have some input in the team.
“Seru is still involved and Marika was working with him last year a bit anyway so it is a pretty smooth transition,” Challacombe said.
“Seru is going to be away a bit during the year and it works out well.
“Marika was keen to do the job and he has obviously had a fairly good rugby experience around the place.
“Hopefully he has picked up a few things from some good coaches.”
The 42-year-old made 17 Test appearances, including playing in Rugby World Cups in 1999 and 2003. He also represented Fiji at rugby sevens in three world cups, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, including victories in 1997 and 2005. He was the top try scorer in the 1997 sevens world cup and also played 50 games for Canterbury Crusaders in Super Rugby.
Vunibaka moved to Griffith in 2014, and was part of the Blacks premiership success, before joining Rogo at the Phantoms.
Challacombe expects it will be a non-playing role.
“If we need him to he will probably play a bit here or there, but is keen to reduce his playing role,” Challacombe said.
After falling one game short of a grand final in the last two seasons, Leeton’s main aim is going at least one better. With a coach now locked in, the club’s focus in now on finding a replacement for star halfback Stu Dyer.
After two seasons with the club, the representative playmaker has moved to Wagga City. Challacombe believes last year’s best and fairest winner leaves big boots to fill.
“We are still chasing a halfback and we have some with a bit of potential,” he said.
“I’m not sure where that is at, but will keep working on it but we are looking across NSW Country as well as internationally.”