CELEBRATING IN STYLE
At a time when many clubs outside of the metropolitan areas are struggling, Edendale has found its niche, on and off the paddock.
It wasn’t always that way.
Go back to 2007 and the black-and-white hoops were in a bad way.
Club president Ross McLeod, who took charge of the club that season, remembers the team finishing at the bottom of the second division. That made it, effectively, the worst senior team in Southland, not exactly a title many would aspire to.
“I sat down with the coach John Fodie and said, ‘well at least we can’t go any lower’,” McLeod recalls.
But under the respected leadership of Fodie and assistant coach Duane Millane, Edendale’s fortunes began to turn around. In 2008 they got as far as the semifinals of the second division competition before being bundled out by Waikiwi.
Then last year Edendale dominated the second division competition and won the title.
The decision was made after that great win to accept the invitation to step up to division one, the second tier of Southland-wide club rugby. Turns out it was the right decision. Far from struggling in their new surroundings, the Edendale seniors have proved themselves to be genuine division one contenders.
Edendale took on near-neighbours and arch-rivals Wyndham on their centennial weekend, recording a 53-5 win in front of a massive home crowd.
The next week they narrowly toppled fellow front-runner Waikaka to cement their place at the top of the division one table.
“I said to JD (Fodie) at the end of last year that when we went up to division one, if we could win half our games then we would be back there the next year. After we beat Waikaka the players were celebrating like Edendale had won the Ranfurly Shield and John said to me ‘we are doing a bit better than we thought’.”
The platform for the Edendale rugby revival began in 2005 with an Under 18 team.
Many of those players had returned to the club in the years that followed and made up much of what is now the senior squad.
Success and the club’s environment had helped attract players from Invercargill, 25 minutes away, and nearby Gore, as well as bringing back the likes of Mark Hourston who returns to the Edendale colours after a few seasons playing premier rugby with Star in Invercargill.
Hourston is a quality fullback who has been used more in the midfield by Edendale, while No 8 Brad Whyte, Casey McEwan and Matthew Bates – brother of Southland flanker Dion Bates – were notable members of the Senior A team.
Edendale holds a special place in Southland’s farming landscape.
Situated 40km from Invercargill on the way north to Gore, it is the home of co-operative Fonterra’s massive dairy plant from which three dryers produce whole, skim and butter milk powder for the world.
Cheese has been produced at the Edendale site for the past 124 years and while Edendale was celebrating the start of organised rugby in 1910, it’s thought there was rugby happening well before then.
Not surprisingly, dairy dominates the Edendale Rugby Club, which sits in the shadow of the plant. Many of the players are dairy farmers or dairy farm workers, but while that can mean long days on the farm, it hasn’t had a detrimental effect on players getting to trainings and games, McLeod says.
As well as the successful Senior A team, the club also has a Senior C team which started last year, and four junior teams, including two in the Rippa Rugby grade.
McLeod says there had been some talk during the centennial weekend about whether Edendale should be harbouring ambitions of moving up to the premier ranks in the future.
“From my point of view I think we are better staying in division one and doing well there. It’s still early days and we’ll see how the rest of this season goes first and then talk about it at the end of the season,” he says.
Having a winning team and a strong community had meant the club was in excellent financial heart with a great atmosphere in the clubrooms, McLeod says. The club’s committee is a tight-knit group of people committed to the ongoing future of Edendale rugby, including the likes of Denise Fodie, wife of coach John, who does the “hard yards” as club secretary, as McLeod puts it.
With excellent work being done by a committed group of club officials, a supportive community and a determined group of players, Edendale could well be celebrating its bicentennial in another hundred years’ time.
Last year’s second division title was a big moment for the Edendale club which just a few seasons before had been languishing at the bottom of the division.
But Edendale fans with a longer memory will point to the 1975 Wallis Shield victory over Mataura as one of the club’s proudest days.
While the Wallis Shield is still contested amongst the clubs of Eastern Southland, the advent of the Southland-wide competition in the late 1980s has taken some of the heat away from the historic trophy.
Back in the mid-1970s, however, the Wallis Shield was the most important trophy on the rugby landscape of what had traditionally been the strongest sub-union in Southland. Defending champion Mataura was expected to be the frontrunner for the honours in 1975, but Edendale got off to a strong start and led the competition for most of the season.
It had been three years since the club had won the shield, and you had to go back to the 1950s for another title.
That 1975 win was so special, however, that the supporters packed out the clubrooms and many were left to stand outside celebrating.
That led to talk of an expanded clubrooms and the following season a larger home base was opened and is still being used today.
ALISTAIR AND BRUCE SINCLAIR
Few have given more service to the Edendale Rugby Club than brothers Alistair and Bruce Sinclair.
Both played for the club, have coached teams, served on committees and been club president – the only time two brothers have held that role in the club’s 100-year history.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bruce has taken care of the club’s grounds since the early 1990s and Alistair has been the bar manager since 1995. The pair was honoured for their contributions with life membership as part of the club’s centennial celebrations.
Edendale club president Ross McLeod said the Sinclair brothers “had put in the hard yards over the years”.
“They are good, loyal club men,” he said.
There aren’t too many better accolades than that.
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