Arrowtown Rugby Club’s outgoing president couldn’t be happier bowing out after his Premiers side’s Central Otago championship-winning performance last Saturday.
Travelling to Cromwell, they beat the Goats 24-21 after a late penalty by first-five Connor Bissett.
In the semis the week before, they’d edged defending champs Upper Clutha, in Wanaka, 14-13.
Former coach Simon Spark, who’s been club president for the past 18 years, says “we probably didn’t expect to win halfway through the year”.
“As I said to the boys [on Sunday], I had fallen out of love with this team a wee bit, but they came good in the end, which we’re immensely proud of.”
Ironically, Spark says it was probably their humbling 25-6 home loss to Cromwell in May that sparked their turnaround.
Even coming into the finals, they’d lost five of their previous seven games, but in the final match in that sequence they’d just been pipped 16-15 by Cromwell in a White Horse Cup challenge.
Spark says the championship’s a large feather in the cap for new coaches Aidan Winter, Dan Eyles and Faavae Kuresa.
He notes Winter, who has played almost 200 games for Arrowtown, selflessly mostly played only as a substitute this season. “I thought on Saturday he came on and and just calmed them down a bit,”
Spark says the coaches made two late-season positional switches that he thinks made a huge difference – moving Blair Foster to fullback and Tom Grandiek, Saturday’s player-of-the-day, to centre.
“The momentum really started when they could pick the same squad for the last three weeks – that’s a bloody hard thing to do in club rugby these days, just with injuries and unavailabilities.”
Above all, he believes the players’ togetherness made the difference – he singles out manager Ben Finn for creating a lot of that culture.
“I sat with them on Sunday – they’re just such a real together bunch, they’ve got a great attitude and they call each other out on bulls…t.
“Seeing the joy on young men’s faces because they’ve all achieved something together, that’s a powerful thing – they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Winning the championship for the first time in 10 years in the club’s 30th jubilee year, with new clubrooms, to boot, was also special.
This Saturday, at 2.45pm at Jack Reid Park, Arrowtown play South Otago champions Clutha for the prestigious Otago countrywide title.
Clutha’s won the title for the past four years, but Spark’s “pretty confident” the home side can win.
“I think they could go all the way.”