By PHILIP CHANDLER
The Arrowtown Premiers’ new rugby coach admits it’ll be interesting standing on the visitors’ side of the Queenstown Rec Ground when they tackle Wakatipu in next month’s Battle of the Basin.
That’s because their mentor, Simon Harper, has been a Wakatipu man through and through.
He played for Wakatipu through the grades, including the Prems, like his dad, Nigel, and was the Prems’ assistant coach when they last won the Central Otago title in 2017 — funnily, they beat Arrowtown in the final.
However, the following year he moved and was co-coaching Cromwell when they retained the White Horse Cup with a disputed draw against Wakatipu, which created a lot of feeling as the latter thought they’d won.
‘‘It was just an unfortunate situation, I still don’t know what the real score was,’’ Harper says.
Living back in Queenstown, he successfully applied for the Arrowtown coaching gig this year — ‘‘I just love being involved with rugby clubs’’.
He’s thrilled with the support he’s had from Arrowtown’s club and players, who he says ‘‘have just really come onboard with some of the things I want to put in place’’.
One of his key moves has been appointing a leadership group.
It comprises new captain Blair Foster, vice-captains Malcolm Sutherland and Tom McKenzie, Thomas Grandiek, Ben Carr and evergreen player/assistant coach Aidan Winter, whom Harper recalls playing against.
An hour before kick-off, that group will take over from the coach, ‘‘so when we get on the field, the players are hearing the same voices’’.
Harper’s also putting in a structure so players have more options when they’re in a tight spot — ‘‘last year they lost quite a few close games’’.
The team had just one pre-season game, against Winton’s Midlands, after the other one was cancelled due to Covid, and Harper says it was pretty close till they conceded two late tries.
He believes the team, whose main strength is again their forwards, can go all the way this year, after losing to Cromwell in the semis last year.
‘‘I think the squad’s very strong and from what I see there’s belief there, and that’s half the battle, really.’’