CRL Celebrates Year of High Achievement at Awards Evening
Celebrating a year of high achievement and looking ahead to an incredibly exciting period of growth and opportunity were the main themes on Canterbury Rugby League’s night of nights, the 2016 Awards Evening, held at Hornby Workingmen’s Club on Friday.
A bumper club season, another impressive campaign from the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls, the success of the province’s 17s and 19s teams, and the unprecedented achievements of the Canterbury Women’s team were all highlighted during CRL Board Vice Chairman Craig Reynolds’ opening address.
Reynolds also thanked the code’s valued sponsors, and praised the army of club staff and volunteers that provide the backbone for rugby league in Canterbury. But as well as acknowledging a tremendous season, Reynolds also challenged clubs to focus not only on the immediate future, but ongoing progress and sustainability for the years to come.
CRL CEO Shane Collins then gave the audience an insight to her experiences during three months in the role, outlining her appreciation for the commitment and contribution of the Canterbury Rugby League community at all levels, and her vision for the game in our region moving forward.
Collins, who reiterated that rugby league in Canterbury is a game of opportunity, left the crowd with an important message: “You don’t always have to be the biggest, to be the best.”
Former Kiwi Test star Shontayne Hape, a special guest of Canterbury Rugby League for the Awards Evening, helped dish out the first batch of trophies, which focused on the club competitions, club workers and referees.
Sydenham, Shirley, Papanui, Hornby, Aranui and, of course, Linwood all featured prominently. The Swans’ Delwyn Ellis took home the CRL Trophy for Volunteer of the Year, while in a poignant tribute, the late Cathy Irwin was awarded the Rochelle MacPherson Trophy for Administrator of the Year.
A tireless servant for the Eagles, Cathy passed away earlier this year, and her two daughters accepted the award on her behalf.
After a break for dinner, MC Craig Kerr engaged Hape in an enlightening and entertaining Q & A session.
Hape regaled the crowd with stories from his fascinating career as an elite sportsman, which began in 1999 with the Auckland Warriors, before a decorated Super League tenure with the Bradford Bulls that encompassed 14 Tests for New Zealand, and a code switch that saw him play 13 rugby union Tests for England – all while taking a few light-hearted pot-shots at legendary former Canterbury and Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, who was in attendance.
But Hape, who now works as Membership Manager with the Warriors, also had a serious message to put across. The 35-year-old’s career ended prematurely due to repeated concussions, and he implored players at all levels not to ignore the warning signs and serious health implications of head injuries.
NZRL Board Member Reon Edwards assisted with handing out the Canterbury representative awards, which honoured the top 19s, women’s and Bulls performers in the red-and-black jumper in 2016.
The massive advancements made in women’s rugby league in Canterbury – including the Michael Linton-coached Canterbury team’s best-ever third-place finish at nationals, along with the naming of several players in Kiwi Ferns train-on squads – was reflected by the most raucous applause of the night, which greeted Rookie of the Year Corrina Whiley, Most Outstanding Player Chartnay Poko, and Sportswoman of the Year Carissa Leka.
The Rockcote Canterbury Bulls fell just short of claiming a spot in a third straight NZRL National Premiership final, while they were the only team to defeat eventual champs the Akarana Falcons and had six players named in the New Zealand Residents squad earlier this month.
Andrew Auimatagi, who coupled his grand final triumph as coach of Linwood with his first year in charge of the Bulls and assistant roles with the New Zealand 18s and New Zealand Residents, spoke to the crowd about the Bulls’ campaign.
Auimatagi emphasised the growth and improvement of Canterbury’s junior and development-level players as one of the highlights of 2016, while also appealing to clubs to work together and share ideas for the betterment of rugby league in Canterbury as a whole.
Dynamic backrower Michael Butson was named the Bulls’ Rookie of the Year, the mercurial Phil Nati took out the Most Outstanding Player gong, while halfback Tevin Arona collected the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls Sportsman of the Year prize.
The Referee Plaque for Club of the Year was awarded to the Aranui Eagles, capping a wonderful year and a silverware-laden night for the club that also included Alana Hema’s R C Reddock Trophy win for Club President of the Year.
But the most prestigious award of the night went to Alani Kakoi, whose brilliant efforts at hooker for the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls and the premiership-winning Linwood Keas won him the Canterbury Sportsperson of the Year honour.
While the CRL Awards Evening marked the official end of the 2016 rugby league calendar, it also marked the start of planning for arguably the biggest year in the code’s history in Canterbury.
Along with the burgeoning junior, senior and women’s club competitions and representative teams, 2017 will see the return of the Penrith Panthers to Christchurch for an NRL fixture, before our city hosts two World Cup matches: the New Zealand-Scotland pool match on November, and a quarter-final on November 18.
It shapes as a hectic 12 months with plenty of hard work ahead – but also a year of genuine highlights and massive opportunity.
CRL wishes to thank all of its players, staff, administrators, volunteers, supporters and sponsors for their contribution to rugby league during a fantastic 2016, and look forward to your involvement again in an exciting 2017.
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE