KURA PRIDE FOR LIFE
EVERY CLUB experiences tough times in its history. They are part and parcel of the rugby world.
One club which knows this more than most is Papakura, which has struggled on the field in recent times.
But more on that later.
First, let’s look at the positives – of which there are many – about this family- and community-orientated club based at Massey Park on Ron Keat Drive.
Its members are a proud lot and have ‘Kura’ colours running through their veins. That much is evident when I enter the clubrooms. I’m greeted by a small army – as well as a curious golden retriever – of club officials, players and others who call this place home on Saturdays. All are eager to show me around and chew my ear about what sets their club apart from the others operating in Aotearoa.
All of which is fine, because that is the purpose of Rugby News’ visit.
The first chapter in the club’s history was penned in 1912. Despite going into recess during both World Wars and a brief amalgamation with Drury following the end of WWII due to low player numbers, Papakura has been standing tall since then.
The current clubrooms were built in 1973. Prior to that, Kura used to run its operation below the grandstand, which came to the club via Eden Park in 1953 after the partnership with Drury had run its course.
It was a hive of activity during my visit and I’m told it is usually the same on Saturdays.
Don’t be surprised to see a number of people from different ethnic backgrounds mingling and enjoying a cold, cleansing ale or two post match either. Like the community itself, Papakura is a multicultural Mecca, with Indians, Koreans, Maoris, Pacific Islanders and South Africans among the different nationalities represented in its membership base.
Some might not be able to speak English, but the language of rugby is strong here. Everyone buys into the club’s old-fashioned values – loyalty and hard yakka, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Kura ethos – and culture, from singing the club’s song (aptly named The Kura Song) on the team bus or in the changing sheds after the game and honouring a player who is receiving their blazer with a haka.
Papakura also has another way in which it toasts that milestone, says premier player Jeremy Chapman.
“In terms of traditions we have a small one when you get your blazer. In the inside pocket you will always get given a dry-cleaning voucher, because anyone that has a blazer can tip a beer (usually a whole bottle) on your inside pocket. So all the boys who have already got them tell the boys who haven’t: ‘it’s raining inside and the boys don’t know it.’
“If you get it wrong, it wrecks your ticket and you’ve got to go and pay for (the dry-cleaning) yourself,” he laughs.
Pranks aside, the heavenly aroma of roasts with all the trimmings also lingers in the clubrooms. The club always puts on a feed for the players, supporters and families. Vice club captain and Under 21s manager Wayne Sullivan reckons the grub and hospitality served up at Papakura beats everyone else by a “country mile”.
Current under 21 player Grant Shaddick agrees: “I don’t think we’d win any MasterChef show or anything, but it’s what you want after a game.”
But it is more than just the after-match spreads which has kept Shaddick involved at Papakura. Talking to this young man, you get the impression he is cut from the cloth of yesteryear.
He was born and bred in the area and, aside from his time at secondary school, has played all his footy for the club. As far as he’s concerned, this is his club and it would make little sense to play elsewhere.
The fact a young gun like Shaddick is prepared to give his blood, sweat and tears to Papakura’s cause will be music to the ears to many of the older members given that the club has struggled to retain and attract players in recent times for one reason or another.
Not surprisingly, it has taken its toll on the field. Papakura went from being a dominant force in the mid 1990s and early 2000s to a shadow of its former self. Things got so bad in 2004 that several players who had long retired were forced to don the boots once again to help out in an hour of need.
Some of those guys, like Nathan Te Puni, are still going today to ensure Papakura keeps its head above water on the field.
“We call ourselves the guardians of the team as we are waiting for these young guys to come through. As soon as they do, we’ll hand it over,” he says.
Chapman reckons the changing of the guard will likely happen sooner rather than later. With Shaddick, a core group of his teammates in the championship-winning Under 19 team in 2009 and 16 junior teams coming through the ranks, the club’s future outlook is looking bright in his eyes.
“It’s just been constant rebuilding. But we’ve got these young boys coming through and we’re seeing the talent that we’ve got… it is only a matter of time. One more year, that’s all we need.”
So all going to plan, Papakura will come good in 2012 when it blows out 100 candles on its birthday cake. No doubt those celebrations will be epic if it was to rediscover its mojo on the field in its centenary year.
Here’s hoping it can.
Papakura’s nine McNamara Cups are viewed highly here.
The club lifted Counties Manukau premier banners in 1956, ’57, ’68, ’72, ’73, ’82 and ’96. It also shared titles with Waiuku (1958) and rivals Manurewa (1974).
But it is the ’96 success which stands out the most, as it was spawned from adversity.
“In 1994, we nearly went down to the second division,” remembers premier player Nathan Te Puni, who has 142 games under his belt.
“But from 1994 to 1996, we pulled ourselves out of the gutter and ended up winning it. The good thing about ’96 was the competition was so strong. You had the Errol Brains, Vidiris… it was a phenomenal competition.”
The trophy was nicknamed the ‘Rum Cup’ after that, because during the celebrations, it was filled to brim with booze. No doubt there would have been a few sore heads following that shindig.
Unfortunately, the well has been dry since that win, with Kura contesting five finals and losing the lot.
He broke his jaw and kept playing.
That is a nutshell describes what a tough bugger Willie Brown is.
Put simply, he is as hard as nails.
Brown has played at least 280 games (the club stopped counting after that) for the Papakura seniors over four decades – 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s – and would still lace his boots in a flash, as he did in 2004, if the club was in a tight spot playing-wise.
“For me, he is the face of Papakura,” says current premier player Nathan Te Puni.
Jeremy Chapman agrees and has his own memories of the man who also penned the club’s song: “The first time I met him he started at prop and by the end of the first scrum he was No 8. He hit the ball up all day.”
His mum is also a regular on the sidelines: “She would be the most vocal supporter,” he laughs.
As far as other legends go, Chapman reckons a special mention must also be made of Eddie and Edna Taituha. “They also epitomise the spirit of this club.”
ALL BLACKS (1)
Bob Lendrum 1973
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.