OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
MOST CLUBS would think you were slightly doolally if you suggested they build a playground to boost senior player numbers – but that’s exactly what the fine folk at Mahurangi have done.
The unorthodox concept was the brainchild of junior club co-ordinator Danielle Cameron, says club president and legend Dave Moore.
“At one stage we asked ‘What is stopping a guy from playing?’. He would say ‘I’m a solo dad or my partner’s working and I’ve got to look after the kids’. So we asked ourselves ‘Should we get a crèche going or are there a couple of young girls who can baby-sit while the boys are training?’.”
That’s when Cameron entered the equation. She hounded the local council – “They don’t piss around with her. She is like a dog with a bone” – until it finally agreed to build a set of swings and a slide to keep the rugrats entertained.
The playground sits in front of the clubrooms, which are spacious and have all the usual ornaments – team photos, jerseys and honours boards – lining its respective walls. There is also a verandah which overlooks the four fields. Two of those are all-weather surfaces, while the main paddock has NPC-standard floodlights to boot.
Rugby News met with Moore, chairman Bernie Kose and premier team manager Ian Bradnam for this article. All three have been here since Mahurangi first opened its doors.
That was in 1989 following a three-way merger between the Kaipara Flats, Omaha and Warkworth clubs when their respective playing numbers started flirting with the red.
Like any amalgamation, Kose says there were a couple of teething problems early on. “We probably lost a handful of supporters, but the majority of people swung with it very well,” he says.
Indeed they have. Twenty-two years down the track and Mahurangi is now an established part of the North Harbour rugby landscape. Last year it was able to field teams in the premier, senior reserve and under 21 grades. Underneath them were nine junior teams, ranging from under fives to 13s, who ensured the club’s fields received a good working-over on Saturday mornings prior to the bigger games later in the day.
Being a rural club, it means many of its players come from farming backgrounds. That’s good, because it usually means some quality cuts of meat to feed the troops after the action has run its course on the field.
Kose reckons the city slickers love playing in their neck of the woods mainly because of that old-fashioned hospitality. “They think they have to take a cut lunch to get here, but they all enjoy it. And it’s not an easy game when they come up here.”
He’s not wrong there. Prior to the new surfaces being laid, those hard games were played in conditions befitting a pigpen. “Our old ground used to turn to mud halfway through the season and it suited our guys. We would grind away, and we didn’t know anyone outside of first five. They (visiting teams) hated it. You couldn’t find half of them after the game, they’d be stuck in mud,” he laughs.
Jokes aside, there are usually ding-dong battles fought against Wellsford during the teams’ annual pre-season clash. Moore says those contests are brutal: “The whole idea of a pre-season goes out the door. You’ve always got to win that one, as it is bragging rights for the year.”
The match against neighbours Silverdale is also one which the premier team likes to get up for.
But it is a game between the senior reserve teams from Mahurangi and Massey that captures the imagination in these parts. They compete for the infamous ‘Chewed Oar’. Viewers of Toyota Grassroots Rugby may be familiar with the trophy.
The rivalry began when some “Welsh joker called Tudor” stole an oar off the back of Moore’s ute while the two teams were enjoying a couple of cold ones in the pub after a game. It was then taken on to Massey’s team bus.
“As I see this oar going over the heads of all those Massey guys, I’m diplomatically trying to say ‘You’ve got my oar’,” remembers Moore.
Michael Jones, a player and manager from Massey, told Moore he would retrieve the oar. “He brought it back, but they had cut the handle in half and painted it up blue with gold rings around it.”
That act of vandalism was the beginning of a tradition, but unfortunately for Mahurangi, they have only won it once in the last 10 years!
When they did claim the spoils, Moore remembers he promised the players a keg of beer and a gallon bottle of rum prior to the match. “They quickly went into the changing shed after the game. I’ve never seen so many munted people in my life,” he laughs.
Mahurangi’s first – and only victory – over North Shore in 2007 is a highly-treasured moment in these parts.
That win ensured the club had beaten every team in the North Harbour competition at least once.
Having come close to lowering Shore’s banner in previous seasons, the premier side was able to notch a well-deserved 38-7 win at the Warkworth Showgrounds.
“It’s special because it was a long time coming,” says premier team manager Ian Bradnam.
Both teams went on to contest the Plate final in the North Harbour competition later in the season, where Shore were able to avenge its defeat. It has dominated proceedings between the two sides since.
Club president and legend Dave Moore says the clubs share a healthy relationship. “Politically in North Harbour, they’ve always been quite in favour of Mahurangi – but of course we still want to thrash them on the field.”
A fisherman by trade, Dave Moore has hooked into his fair share of work at Mahurangi over the years.
He has coached and has acted as club captain, chairman and, in more recent times, has taken on the responsibility of club president.
Moore has also played a big part in the club’s forward planning, says club chairman Bernie Kose: “He’s been here with us right from the start and he epitomises our rugby.”
Just don’t get him to talk though. Ian Bradnam reckons once he gets going, he doesn’t bloody stop!
“Our premier coach’s wife said to me ‘I can always tell whether it’s you or Dave on the phone, because when Simon is talking to you, he says something and then listens. But when he is talking with Dave he just listens’,” he laughs.
Moore was reluctant to receive this title when it was bestowed upon him by his colleagues. “You can’t do that,” was his reaction. “It’s only because we are so young – we’re not even 25-years-old. But we’re just passionate about the game. We just want to pass that on to as many other people as we can.”
ALL BLACK (1)
Murray Jones 1973 *
* Selected while playing for Omaha
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