THE SAINTS ARE MARCHING IN
IT'S USUALLY a given that most clubs throughout New Zealand have a bar – a well-stocked one at that – but how many have Holy Water on tap?
A pint of the Lord’s finest will set you back around $4.50 at North Harbour Marist.
“You don’t need to go to church the next day when you have one of those,” jokes the club’s premier coach James Iversen.
Adds committee chairman Richard Hathaway: “But you might be confessing your sins a bit later on.”
Welcome to North Harbour Marist.
It’s not difficult to find – the club is the one next to North Harbour Stadium. The clubrooms are a compact facility, but enjoy a superb view overlooking the two fields. There is even a skylight so members can “talk to the big guy upstairs”.
The club has been situated at these premises since 1995. Before then, Marist was known as the ‘Nomads’. That’s because when the club was christened in 1988, they had no clubrooms and no grounds. It would bounce around pubs and play its games away during that debut season.
The first home ground was on Akoranga Drive in Northcote. Life Member and club legend Barry Armiger says it was known as the ‘Killing Field’ as players would often be crocked by the huge holes in it.
He and fellow life member Trevor Prendergast have been at the club from day one, when a group of Auckland Marist players living on the North Shore decided to break away à la the North Harbour Rugby Union and set up a similar rugby institution in their neck of the woods.
And that in itself is unique. Whereas at other clubs the founding members have moved on or, God rest their souls, are six feet under, the guys who dug the footings and banged the nails at Marist are still doing their bit for the club today.
Says club chairman Mark Saunders: “We’ve got a core of people that have been involved with Marist from the outset that are still involved. They don’t come along, do their couple of years on the board and then disappear, never to be seen again. They are still here.”
Belonging to the Marist family, one would assume Catholic values would be paramount. But times are changing, and while it usually holds an annual Mass at the beginning of the year and prides itself on having good values and morals, its doors are open to anybody, regardless of race, religious beliefs and socio-economic background. In other words, it’s an all-inclusive institution.
Marist’s rep players buy into that concept. They’re good club men. When they are not busy, they can be spotted around the traps supporting teams or attending junior prize giving – or, in the case of former All Blacks and North Harbour wing Rudi Wulf, signing 120 club letters that are sent to local colleges as part of its annual recruitment drive.
Club manager Chrissie van Hof has a story which best epitomises their commitment to the club. Her nine-year-old grandson, who plays junior rugby for Marist, has Down syndrome and a serious heart condition. All Blacks lock Anthony Boric spent a morning with him in his classroom, while North Harbour props Michael Reid and Ben Afeaki visited him in hospital recently after he underwent open heart surgery.
“I don’t think [they did it] because I’m club manager – I think they would do that for anyone in the club,” she says.
On the subject of its top-level players, Boric was worried he wouldn’t get his premier blazer. Other clubs may hand them out willy-nilly but they’re like gold around these parts. Fifty games is the prerequisite.
And they are a highly sought after item, too. Armiger says former Hurricanes, North Harbour, Wellington and Northland prop Tony Coughlan returned last year to make sure he got his.
Marist has eight men’s teams – premiers, senior first, Under 21, Under 19, Under 85kg, senior seconds and presidents. There is even an all-Chinese team. That lot is complemented by 24 junior sides, ranging from under fives through to under 13s.
The highlight for senior players is selection in the New Zealand Marist team, the annual Spillane tournament in Easter, and the Marist Sevens, which are held in the capital at the same time as the Wellington Sevens in February. The team for the latter was being put through its paces when I visited the club.
Marist also doubles as the North Harbour union’s university club, meaning those players undertaking tertiary study are also eligible for New Zealand Universities selection.
Teams in all grades are offered the chance of playing games on Friday nights. The clubrooms are usually humming then. The same can be said on a Saturday, too, where it’s usually standing-room only on the clubhouse veranda. Just a shame the same cannot be said about the other lot across the carpark when a big game is on.
Iversen reckons Marist’s big games are against East Coast Bays, Northcote and Takapuna. The rivalry with the latter stems from the one which exists between their respective feeder colleges, Rosmini College and Westlake Boys’ High.
Prendergast takes great satisfaction in victories over North Shore given they deceived them when Marist was trying to gain entry into the competition in its formative years: “They promised to nominate us, but had no intention of doing it.”
Be that as it may, expect to hear a stirring rendition of the team’s song – a slightly tweaked version of When the Saints Come Marching In – if the club is successful on the field. All the teams sing it when they win. A set of lyrics hangs in the changing shed and the noise can often be heard through the clubroom’s floorboards.
The Saints logo itself is an important one. Iversen says it has started appearing at rugby grounds around the union. “The boys used to creep up at 10 o’clock on Friday night and spray the logo on the fields,” he laughs.
Jokes Hathaway: “We like to use a guerrilla marketing approach and bring a little bit back to club rugby.”
Good to hear, mate. Good to hear.
They don’t come much better than the 2008 season.
That was the year the club had three players – prop Tony Woodcock, lock Anthony Boric and wing Rudi Wulf – named in the All Blacks.
Woodcock had been a mainstay in the Men in Black since 2004, but for Boric and Wulf it was their first spell in the national team.
“That was a great achievement. There was no other club that could claim that honour that year,” says premier coach James Iversen.
All three turned out for Marist against North Shore in the club competition that season as well.
At North Harbour Marist’s founding meeting, Barry Armiger “foolishly” offered his service to join the committee as they were short a couple of members.
He’s been there ever since.
And during that time Armiger has done it all. He’s coached every team – including the Chinese side – from juniors through to premiers and held every management post at the club. That includes two spells as club president and chairman.
A member of the Auckland Marist club for many years, he also coached the New Zealand Marist Colts and served as the organisation’s president. He inherited that role by default after the North and South Islands refused to endorse each other’s respective candidates.
“One was from Auckland and the other was from Christchurch, so they saw me as being neutral,” he quips.
Club chairman Mark Saunders reckons Armiger is an “institution” at Marist: “He’s illustrative of the commitment people make to the club.”
ALL BLACKS (3)
Tony Woodcock 2002, ’04-10
Anthony Boric 2008-10
Rudi Wulf 2008
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?