World Cup Call To Arms For South Island Kiwis Association
The South Island Rugby League Kiwis Association’s annual Christmas get-together had a distinct World Cup flavour, with 2017 RLWC New Zealand Operations Manager Andrea Nelson and chief ambassador Sir Peter Leitch travelling down from Auckland to address the gathering, while two Canterbury legends were unveiled as local ambassadors.
The meeting was held at the Association’s headquarters – the rugby league museum at Gary Clarke Plastics in Woolston – last Friday, fittingly one year to the day out from the 2017 World Cup final at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
After typically passionate and entertaining introductions from South Island Rugby League Kiwis Association President Mike O’Donnell (Kiwi #536) and Secretary Bill Whitehead, Nelson spoke of her enthusiasm about bringing the Kiwis v Scotland pool game and a quarter-final (likely to be Fiji v Samoa) to Christchurch’s AMI Stadium next November.
“We all know the Kiwis don’t play at home enough,” Nelson said.
“We went to a massive effort to make sure we got games here – not just in Auckland, not just in Wellington – but all over the country in the North and South Island to give people the opportunity to see the Kiwis.
“Our second-highest selling game is New Zealand versus Scotland, so the Christchurch people are already getting behind the event.”
Nelson also implored the throng of former Kiwis greats and Canterbury Rugby League identities to spread the World Cup message.
“You guys are rugby league, you’re in your communities every day and we’d love for you to be talking to people about the World Cup,” she said.
“Whatever environment you’re in, tell people to come along.”
Sir Peter Leitch echoed Nelson’s sentiments, and issued a call to arms for what promises to be one of the most important seasons in New Zealand Rugby League history – and a bumper year for a Canterbury public traditionally starved of top-level rugby league.
“I’m humbled to be here in front of so many legends of the game, but next year, in my lifetime in rugby league, is going to be the biggest year,” the impassioned, irreverent ‘Butch’ declared.
“We’re going to really be on centre stage, and I think it’s very important for us as league people to get out there and tell our friends (about the World Cup).”
Gary Clarke (Kiwi #451), the ever-generous host of the Association’s event and a former New Zealand Test halfback, was named alongside Kiwis coaching icon Frank Endacott as the two Canterbury-based ambassadors for the World Cup.
Bill Flavell was also inducted as an Honorary Member of the South Island Rugby League Kiwis Association in memory of his late club and representative teammate, Mita Mohi (Kiwi #501), who passed away last month, and West Coast great Tony Coll (Kiwi #503) was confirmed as the Association’s Vice Patron to replace the late George Menzies (Kiwi #326).
The gathering observed a moment’s silence in memory of the four members who had passed away since the last meeting: long-serving Canterbury front-rower Mohi, New Zealand Team of the Century five-eighth Menzies, and fellow Coasters Reese Griffiths (Kiwi #372) and Arnold Green (Kiwi #374).
Equally importantly, it was a rare opportunity for old mates to catch up over a beer and share stories of glorious rugby league days past, and to honour some of the greatest servants the code has ever known.
The 2017 World Cup is an event arguably unprecedented in New Zealand Rugby League history in terms of size and exposure, but the tireless efforts of the legends who have nurtured the game in this country for almost 110 years have certainly not been forgotten.
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE