ON THE UP
THERE IS something special brewing at the Papatoetoe Rugby Club in its 65th year of existence, as Rugby News discovered when it headed down the Southern Motorway to find out more about the South Auckland club’s renaissance.
Those who have been following Auckland club rugby religiously would know that Papatoetoe is riding high. Indeed, results this season have been fantastic – the premiers are second in the race for the Alan McEvoy Memorial Trophy, are current holders of the Sir Fred Allen Challenge Cup and made the final of the Waka Nathan Challenge Cup earlier this season.
Away from the muddy fields, Papatoetoe has also relocated to the brand-spanking new Papatoetoe Sports Centre.
“There’s been a helluva change in terms of how we are viewed and how we are performing on and off the field,” says club chairman Paul Maguire.
Much of the success stems from the work that was done in the off-season following last year’s disappointing performances.
Part of that planning was ensuring the premier team had a coach who knew how to get the best out of the players, both the existing and new ones which had migrated to Papatoetoe’s turf during the summer.
Enter Geoff Moon.
Under the tutelage of Moon and his able deputies – Gary Peach, Luke Mealamu and Dave Usu – Papatoetoe has made great strides this season.
Club legend and premier team manager Ash Joyce says that group prides itself on discipline and has an old-fashioned ethos, adding that life members are brought in to present the premier players’ jerseys on match-day.
Maguire agrees with those comments.
“The coaches have got a lot of values and are big on imparting them to the boys who haven’t had that structure before. They know how to relate and talk to the players. And to their credit, the players have really bought into their approach.”
Papatoetoe has more than 800 registered senior and junior players. As well the Premier side, there is also a Senior Reserve, two Senior Three and two Presidents teams. Under 21s, 19s and 85kg sides and 22 junior teams make up the rest of the playing contingent.
But it’s not just on the field that things have turned to gold for Papatoetoe.
The relocation to the Papatoetoe Sports Centre has also been a positive thing. The club shares the venue with five sports clubs – soccer, cricket, hockey, tennis and bowls – as well as the local bridge club, scouts and girl guides groups.
Papatoetoe does not want for support either. There was a big crowd – around 1500 people – on hand at the new complex to watch the season-opening game against defending champions Ponsonby.
“We have a good social setting,” says Maguire. “Families play a huge part in the players’ lives and it’s about integrating that into the club. Because of our predominately Pacific Island player base, we’ve got so many different cultures, so it’s about understanding and adapting to those different aspects.”
As for future plans, Papatoetoe wants to turn the old clubhouse into an indoor training and storage facility and upgrade the existing field to either a sand-based or artificial surface, á la College Rifles. It is also determined to keep fostering the relationship with the local colleges in the area.
“We want to strengthen the pathway from schoolboys through to a professional career,” says Maguire.
RELOCATING TO the Papatoetoe Sports Centre is the best thing that has happened to the club from an administration perspective.
Equipped with a gymnasium, indoor training facility and aftermatch function room, Papatoetoe now has a state-of-the-art venue and one of the best set-ups in Auckland.
And best of all, everything is taken care of by the Papatoetoe Sports and Community Charitable Trust, meaning the club has no overheads as far as maintenance goes.
The facility, which cost $12 million dollars, was completed earlier this year.
Playing-wise, club legend and premier team manager Ash Joyce reckons the 1991 season sticks out. Papatoetoe was promoted mid-season and made a great splash, knocking over heavyweights Ponsonby, Carlton and Suburbs during a golden run.
“Unfortunately we missed out on contesting the Gallaher Shield. But given what we had and where we came from, it was a pretty good achievement.”
ASH JOYCE has the red and white of Papatoetoe running through his veins.
“He’s got a lifetime of knowledge, is Papatoetoe born and bred, has red and white in his veins and knows the culture,” says club chairman Paul Maguire.
A life member and long-serving committee member, Joyce has been a regular at Papatoetoe since 1958, when he first played junior rugby for the club.
His playing career spanned 25 years, 15 of which were for the senior team. After hanging up his boots, Joyce served as a committee member, senior coach and manager, vice-president and president.
You will also still see him putting up the pads and corner flags on Saturdays and ensuring the clubhouse is spick and span once the aftermatch has run its course.
He took a break for three years in 2007, but was enticed back by new coach Geoff Moon to manage the premier team this season. It was a role he also filled in 1991.
“We’ve had two or three rough years, but it looks as if things are now coming right now,” says Joyce.
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.