Collins’ Otago rugby heartbreak

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The future of a promising young Queenstown rugby player is in turmoil with the Otago Rugby Football Union’s meltdown. 

Michael Collins, 18, was told on Monday his three-year contract with the ORFU was cancelled after the union announced it’s likely to be placed into liquidation tomorrow with debts of $2.35 million. 

The financial collapse means Otago may not be able to enter a team in the national provincial ITM Cup competition starting late July. 

Collins’ father Kelvin says: “Michael’s really gutted. It’s not necessarily about the money – he might not have a team to play for. He’s in limbo.” 

Last night Queenstown philanthropist and ORFU president Sir Eion Edgar hinted that the ITM Cup team will be maintained, with a flurry of financial backers emerging to save it. 

Kelvin says he’s disappointed the cash-strapped union wasn’t open with players and the public earlier. 

“Obviously they were insolvent last year when they were negotiating these contracts. Michael’s not the only player that’s been misled. These players turned down other offers to play for Otago and now they might not even have a team to play for.” 

Michael, who attends Otago University, last year gave up deals with Aussie league club Melbourne Storm and the Waikato union. 

Kelvin says it’s too late to get another contract. 

“Other teams might have room for one or two players who’ve already got a name for themselves but to go in and pick up a young player like Michael is something they wouldn’t take a risk on.” 

Edgar says he’s been contacted by several Kiwis “with access to real resources” who are determined for Otago to play the ITM Cup. 

“I’ve had calls from people saying, ‘Where can we send money?’ 

“What I’ve heard in the last day is even more positive – not only that we can have a team but a very competitive team.” 

Michael is one of four recipients of grants by the Southern Lakes Scholarship Trust, established in 2010 to keep local rugby talent in the province. 

Trust chairman Ferg Spary says the money raised locally – tens of thousands of dollars – was safely held in a separate ORFU account so hasn’t been lost in the insolvency process. It’s since been transferred to a lawyers’ trust account. 

“The union hasn’t used any of the money without our approval but [the trust account] gives us more surety over where the money is and how it’s being spent,” Spary says. 

“There’s plenty of money in there for us to do lots of good for local rugby in the future. 

“It’s all accounted for and all been retrieved.” 

Wakatipu premiers coach and former Otago player Kelvin Middleton says the ORFU’s collapse is devastating but no surprise. 

“The New Zealand Rugby Union bailed them out with $200,000 last year. To carry on as a business behind closed curtains when the writing has been on the wall has been the most disappointing factor, whereas if they’d been upfront a long time ago it would have softened the blow.” 

The Wakatipu club had already written off outstanding money promised by the ORFU to assist with transport, Middleton adds.