Rugby league in Tauranga has emerged from the representative wilderness.
It happened at a beautiful but remote Corbett Park footie ground at Oakura, 15 minutes out of New Plymouth, and against a stunning backdrop of Mount Taranaki. Tauranga’s Coastline Mariners league team ended three years of no representative league in the city.
“The directive was to demonstrate to league’s Upper Central Zone management that we could put together a competitive team for two games which would qualify us for representative football next year. We did that, so mission accomplished,” says coach Jock Nicholson.
He wouldn’t be a coach if he wasn’t disappointed that the team lost this latest qualifier, beaten by Taranaki 34-24. “But this year it was more about us playing representative football. Next year we will be results-focussed.”
It was a return day trip of eight hours for the Taranaki qualifier. “The first half reflected that – the team was slow and lethargic. But we came back at them with three or four tries in the second half which was impressive. We hammered their line but they scored an opportunist try late in the piece,” says Jock.
It won’t be a day trip for next year’s competition game. “We will put the funding through and be down there the night before the game. It’ll be much better planned and organised.”
Jock says there’s a core of eight to a dozen young players aged 18 to 24. “That’s very encouraging; a young squad and I want to nurture them.” Players such as fullback Mikaere Bennett, hooker Hone Thompson, winger Tamati Robens, second rower Ari Robens and prop Josh Pawa. “They all have a big future in the game.”
Player of the day was utility Mike Johnston who came on as a replacement forward. Front rower Josh Pawa made several bulldozing runs, and hooker Sam Johnstone was on point.
“But the work for the Coastline Mariners’ management starts again right here,” says Jock. “We will be planning and managing the players right through the off-season and pre-season – making sure the players are aware of the expectations of a representative rugby league player and ensuring they hit their training targets and fitness targets.”
In the meantime the young Coastline Mariners team has had a taste of representative football. “They’ve enjoyed the experience and learned some valuable lessons.”