Queenstown money has helped a young local sportsman secure a contract with the Otago Rugby Football Union.
Second-five Michael Collins, 18, has joined Otago’s national provincial ITM Cup squad, signing a three-year contract with the ORFU.
The contract has been sweetened by financial support from the Queenstown-based Southern Lakes Scholarship Trust, set up last year by former ORFU boss, Arrowtowner Russell Gray.
Collins – a New Zealand Schools player this year and Otago Boys’ High 1st XV captain – turned down rival offers from Aussie league club Melbourne Storm and the Waikato rugby union.
Gray says: “We made it very clear to the Otago union that we wanted them to do everything they possibly could to retain him and that we were prepared to support him financially through the trust, which we’ve done.
“That has assisted the union being able to put a reasonable offer in front of him to keep him here. This is exactly why we wanted to put the Southern Lakes scholarship together in the first place – potentially, without it, he might have slipped through the system,” he says.
Collins’ dad Kelvin believes Michael’s signing signals a huge change in ORFU’s recruitment policy.
“They’re trying to grow home-grown talent where in the past they were probably very happy to go and buy people.”
Queenstowner Kelvin says Michael spent two years in an Otago rugby academy which has been crucial in his development.
Kelvin adds the Otago contract “clarifies [Michael’s] direction for the next three years – it allows him to go to university and focus on sport at the same time”.
Michael calls his contract “a dream come early”.
Michael says it also allows him to fulfill his cricket ambitions – he’s also captain of his Dunedin school’s 1st XI and an Otago B squad member.
Kelvin supports his son’s pursuit of two codes.
“I think that playing more than one sport makes you a more rounded person and probably a better sportsman at the end of the day.”
Otago’s ITM Cup campaign doesn’t begin till next August but pre-season training starts next month.
Michael’s mid-field colleagues include former All Blacks Tamati Ellison and Ben Atiga.