PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT
SCENES OF the premier team’s forwards hooking into their work and scoring a pushover try against powerhouses Havelock North last year sums up perfectly how the country boys from Hawke’s Bay Central Rugby and Sports Club have been doing the business against the province’s more fancied sides for the past 18 years.
Away from the muddy fields, the club is also run superbly, has a spacious and impressive clubhouse and is financially secure, while its Central Park base in Waipukurau – complete with a grandstand and floodlights – is one of the best grounds in the region. It has been a regular host of the Hawke’s Bay Sevens since 2003.
Sure, Central may not have the ‘superstars’ of other clubs and it probably comes off second best more times than it likes on the scoreboard, but due to its committed, hard-working and loyal players, the club is more than capable of footing it with the city-slickers from Napier and Hastings and is extremely proud that it is only club from out in the tullies that is still competing in the top-flight.
It hasn’t been easy, though, keeping that status. In fact, it was forced to scratch and claw just to avoid relegation this season, needing to win one game and have another result go its way. The mission was achieved and Central will once again line-up alongside the likes of Napier Pirates and Havelock North in 2012 for the Nash Cup and Maddison Trophy rounds.
“We’re a club that is made up of a few, but strongly loyal administrators and players,” says club president and Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union board director Peter Fleming.
“We haven’t been the top club in the premier competition, but we’ve survived for the past 18 years so far. It’s important for us to be able to provide a representative pathway for aspiring players.”
That was a key driver behind the merger between Waipukurau High School Old Boys and Waipawa United in 1994 to form Central.
“There was a group that could see if we stayed where we were and maintained two country clubs we will never achieve top-flight status in Hawke’s Bay,” says club patron Ross Angus.
As a player, if you play Central on its home patch, you can expect a torrid game. It loves to make things difficult for the Napier and Hastings boys. Expect plenty of noise, either from the grandstand or the clubhouse verandah, which offers a top-notch vantage point to take in all the action.
“Invariably we are beaten by some of those bigger sides, but they always come wary when they play on Central Park,” says Fleming.
One thing Central prides itself on is being a family-orientated club that provides good hospitality. So when the players have finished attending to on-field matters, they are more than welcome to head into the clubhouse to have a feed, a couple of liquid refreshments and a yarn or two.
“We get pretty well looked after here,” says premier player and former Hawke’s Bay rep Rob Evans.
For all that, however, it’s footing it with the big boys – and knocking them over, too – that Central is most proud about. Whether it’s winning the Hawke’s Bay Challenge Shield or making the semifinals of the Maddison Trophy, Central has proven it is worthy of its top-flight status.
It will be the first to admit it’s not the flashiest team. But what it lacks in representative players, it compensates for with a big ticker and players who have loyalty oozing out of their pores.
Explains premier player Warwick Slingsby: “We’re not a team that headhunts players. We’d rather have a player that comes here and is committed to turning up on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, regardless of whether they are injured or have been picked to play.”
The club’s most loyal player is awarded the Tino Amato Trophy. That prize spawned out of what was the worst day in the club’s history, in 2002, when Tino Amato died while playing his 100th premier game on Central Park after having his larynx crushed in a tackle.
Tragedy aside, some notable players have passed through Central during their careers. Among them are current Hawke’s Bay reps Brodie Retallick, Ash Johnson, Black Fern Emma Jensen and USA Eagles vice-captain John van der Giessen. Former All Blacks props Kent Lambert and John Ashworth have also coached at the club.
THERE HAVE been many in Central’s 18-year history, but they don’t come better than making the Maddison Trophy semifinals in 2007.
Central took inspiration from Hawke’s Bay’s giant-killing exploits in the ANZC that year to secure a spot in the top four. Moreover, it only just lost to Havelock North.
“It was played in pretty wet conditions,” remembers club president Peter Fleming. “Our wing Mark Donald is pretty fast and he picked the ball up from his own goal-line, but unfortunately the side of the field he sprinted up was a complete bog and the further he went, the slower he got and further into the ground he went. The Havelock defence would not have got near him on a dry day.”
In 2010, the club won the Hawke’s Bay Challenge Shield, while in its first season, the reserve team won the Bowman Cup, the women’s side took out the Marsh Cup (B competition) and the Colts finished as runners-up.
ROSS ANGUS, PETER ‘RED’ OLIVER, ROB EVANS
ROSS ANGUS gets the nod for his administration work, Peter Oliver for his longevity and Rob Evans for his loyalty.
A proud Waipawa man, Angus has put aside any bias and has embraced the Central identity, serving as club president and patron. He is also a life member and organises the annual Hawke’s Bay Sevens tournament: “It’s been my life and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” he says.
Oliver – affectionately known as ‘Red’ – is a winger turned prop who began playing in 1984, representing Waipukurau HSOB and then Central before hanging up his boots in 2008.
However, he is getting itchy feet and wants to play again, joking tongue-in-cheek that he could do better than those “useless pricks” out there at the moment!
Evans, who represented the New Zealand Under 19s at the 1999 World Championship and the NZ Divisional XV in 2004, has been at the club since 2000 and has resisted offers from bigger clubs to leave. “He has given 100 percent for Central,” says club president Peter Fleming.
ALL BLACKS (3)
Jim McCormick 1947*
Robbie Stuart 1977*
Ken Taylor 1980#
*Selected while playing for Waipukurau High School Old Boys
# Selected while playing for Waipawa United
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.