A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER
NAPIER PIRATE Rugby and Sports Club know first-hand what it is like to grovel, but right now it is riding a wave of success and building positively towards the future.
Rugby News found this rugby-playing institution – which also incorporates netball, cricket and rugby league under its umbrella – in the Hawke’s Bay to be a strong family- and community-oriented club, one which prides itself on having a proactive outlook.
Once a Pirate always a Pirate, I am told by the hard-working club men – all of whom are determined to see Pirates conquer every rugby sea they sail – who graciously take time out of their busy schedule to speak about their club, which sliced up its 125th birthday cake this year.
That decadent delight would’ve tasted even sweeter given the premier side locked away the Maddison Trophy and Hawke’s Bay Challenge Shield in the treasure chest for the summer.
“We couldn’t have written the script any better than that, really,” says club chairman Graham Atkins.
Indeed. Yet for all the cheers and champagne bottles popped open in celebration, there was a time when Pirates were on the bones of their backside. They have taken the knocks, the deadly body blows, but that has only strengthened their resolve.
“Traditionally we’ve never been a fashionable club. We’ve found it hard to attract players, but slowly but surely the worm is starting to turn,” says Atkins.
Be that as it may, however, the ‘dark old days’ were not kind to the club, which, at one point, was really leaning on the ropes.
Life member and former patron Pat Dagg remembers Pirates going through a lean patch during his playing days. A two-year losing streak is about as bad as things could get. Not according to fellow life member Steve Dowrick, who remembers playing 66 premier games for a return of two wins, a draw and 63 losses. At one point, the top team could only muster four players, too.
Pirates were on their deathbed then, says club patron Pat Fox. Many of the then committee were keen to do away with the premier team.
“Had we gone down, that would’ve been the end of us.”
One of the turning points in Pirates’ history came in 1960 when it formed a relationship with William Colenso College. That partnership, which saw Pirates change their name to Colenso Pirates (it reverted back to its original moniker in 2000), enabled them to tap into a talented pool of young players.
In later years, many of them would form the nucleus of the promising colts teams in the early 1980s and, subsequently, the strong premier sides in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.
However, life member Dick Leadbetter says it was 11 years ago when the club really rediscovered its mojo.
“We decided it was an opportunity to do something about the club, so we put together a think-tank of business people, changed the name back to Pirates, as the relationship with Colenso had runs its course, and put in place some checks and balances.”
A five-year plan to win the Maddison Trophy was installed. That goal was achieved within four years and Pirates have gone from strength to strength since then.
As well as having their name engraved in both the Maddison Trophy and Hawke’s Bay Challenge Shield this season, the senior reserves and third grade teams also made their respective finals. There was also a women’s team on the books, but strangely no colts side. Club manager Chris Lander says the latter is a must-have moving forward and is confident Pirates will be in a position to field an Under 21 team next year.
The support cast – 15 junior teams – complete the playing roster. The rugrat numbers are up 20% on 2010 and each and every one of those youngsters forms an important part of this club.
“This club starts at five and lasts a lifetime,” says Lander.
For all that, however, Pirates are not resting on their laurels. They may be top of the mountain, but they are still looking at improving their position, both on and off the field. And through hard work they are slowly ticking all the boxes moving forward.
“The club never sits still. We want to be proactive and become the leader of the pack, as opposed to being a sheep,” says Lander. “We’re always looking at what to do next, rather than at what we’ve just done, because what you’ve just done should tell you what you need to do next.”
With that attitude, Pirates will no doubt still be hunting for treasure of the rugby variety in 125 years’ time.
TEARS WERE shed, beers were cracked open and the celebrations went long into the night and next day as Pirates finally ended its Maddison Trophy drought in 2004.
Fifty-seven long years had passed since the club had lifted the symbol of Hawke’s Bay club footy supremacy. But all that changed when they beat Napier Old Boys-Marist 24-15 in the final at McLean Park.
“To finally get our hands on the trophy was great, given all the shit we had gone through since 1947,” says life member Steve Dowrick.
Fellow life member Pat Dagg shed a tear when the premier team walked into the clubhouse with the spoils of victory. Dowrick, on the other hand, did not leave the joint, which he reckons was humming, until 9.30pm the following day!
For Dagg, beating Clive to end a two-year losing streak was equally as satisfying: “I’ll never ever forget that.”
PAT DAGG AND PAT FOX
THE TWO Pats – Dagg (far left) and Fox – are club legends at Pirates; not that the title sits well with either of them.
“We just happened to have been here longer than most,” says Dagg, his good friend Fox nodding in approval.
Still, there is no denying these two life members have dedicated their entire lives to Pirates.
Dagg, who is the grandfather of All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg, has called Pirates home since 1959. He has done it all in that time, playing and serving in various administration roles.
Fox, who succeeded Dagg as patron two years ago, has been there since 1950. As well as playing, he was also coach when the club was at its lowest ebb and victories were hard to come by.
“That is the measure of a true coach. Not one who wins the Maddison Trophy, but one who is prepared to stick by a team of camel shit week-in, week-out,” says fellow life member Steve Dowrick.
ALL BLACKS (2)
Harry Frazer 1946-47, ’49
Israel Dagg 2010-11
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?