NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament
NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament - More about journey than destination
Winning a trophy is nice, but sometimes there’s more to attending the NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament than victory on the field.
Consider the efforts of those teams that have overcome great distances or adversity just to compete for the silverware this week.
Greymouth High School have probably travelled further than any other school to make their debut at the event this year, continuing a proud rugby league history into a new generation.
They’ve had to “adopt” a couple players from local rivals John Paul II College to make up the numbers – a concession generously allowed by their development grade rivals – but there’s no doubting they’re playing with a community squarely behind them.
It also helps that they have their very own living league legend in town – Kiwi #503 Tony Coll presented the team with their jerseys last week.
“West Coast rugby league will celebrate 100 years next year and most of these boys play club league down there,” explains coach Phil Campbell.
“This tournament is a huge undertaking for them and they’ve had to be committed. It’s good for them to see what happens outside of the Coast – it will be an eye-opener for them.
“We want to perform well, but at the end of the day, there will be benefits outside of football.”
The Coasters showed their spirit on opening day, with a come-from-behind 18-14 win over South Auckland opponents Rosehill College.
Greymouth aren’t the only team to beat the odds to be at Bruce Pulman Park. Hours before the event, Whangarei Boys High were on the verge of pulling out, before they were rescued by local entrepreneur Doug Andrews.
The Northlanders’ fundraising efforts had fallen short of targets and they faced the disappointment of not making the trip down State Highway One for the schools tournament.
But Andrews, whose MultiKai Cooker enterprise is naming-rights sponsor to the Northland club premiership, stepped up to guarantee the shortfall and offer the boys a chance to pay it back.
“I’m a big believer in helping people help themselves,” says Andrews. “That’s part of the culture that’s built the success of the MultiKai Cooker brand.”
That generosity may allow some local athletes to fulfill their rugby league aspirations.
“The boys would have been devastated if they couldn’t have gone to the tournament,” says WBHS manager Willie Cooper. “We went last year and what an event it was.
“We have some boys that want to make league their careers and this tournament is definitely the place where dreams can come true.”
But one team will play with an absent friend very much in their hearts. On the eve of the tourney, Taita College management had to put one of their players back on a plane to Wellington, after a death in the family.
“Our hearts go out to the Taita team, who are part of our extended family this week,” said NZRL football general manager Tony Iro. “We’ll be doing our best to support them over the coming days.”