The Rockcote Canterbury Bulls’ clash with the Warriors’ ISP team at Ngā Puna Wai on February 23 heralded a new era for rugby league in the region.

But it also signalled the end of an era for the Bulls, with long-serving manager Mel Mather stepping down from the role following the historic match.

“My day job, kids and family life is a bit full on, so something had to give,” explains Mather, one of the code’s most valuable and diligent volunteers of recent years. “While I’ve enjoyed my time in league, that was the thing that had to give.”

Coach Andrew Auimatagi, assistant coach Jed Lawrie, trainer Lee Paru and manager Mather first teamed up at the helm of a South Island Scorpions age-group team in 2015.

The quartet took on the corresponding roles with the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls in 2016 and have steered the side through three NZRL National Premiership campaigns, as well as the landmark Ngā Puna Wai fixture to kick off 2019.

“(Among) the highlights have been seeing some of those really talented players grow,” Mather says.

“I started my rep managing with a South Island Scorpions 15s team and Caius Fa’atili was in the team – he was only 13 at the time – and the last game I had with the Bulls was his debut and he scored a try.

“That was pretty cool, because I had that young guy in my 15s team and a couple of years later in the New Zealand 16s team, and then the Bulls. Just seeing players grow over time has been… quite humbling as well, working alongside some talented athletes.

“And staff as well, I’ve been really fortunate working with Andrew on the New Zealand 16s campaign, too.”

More Than Just A Game For Mather

The next Bulls manager has some big shoes to fill. Mather provided a run-down on the wide-ranging duties the role entails.

“Making sure staff and players are where they need to be, and the fun part of setting up the changing rooms and making sure the boys walk in and don’t have a hell of a lot to do before they get into the zone pre-game.

“Liaising with CRL and New Zealand Rugby League about who we’ve got in our team and making sure all the paperwork and the admin stuff is done. All the players need to be registered, they all need to have done certain online seminars or Drugfree Sport NZ seminars, so just making sure everyone is eligible to play before they take the field.

“Just making sure all the players understand what they’re up to. All the off-field organisation stuff is what the manager does.”

But Mather, who is the chief executive at Bowls Canterbury, says all the hard work and time commitment have been more than worth it, providing her with countless rewarding experiences. She implores any prospective volunteers – the lifeblood of any grassroots sport – with an interest in rugby league to get involved.

“The crew they’ve got at the moment are super-knowledgeable – particularly Andrew, he’s probably the most knowledgeable guy I’ve ever met when it comes to rugby league.

“And whoever steps into the manager’s role will have a really good time, they’re a great bunch of guys and I’ll miss our regular catch-ups. Whoever fills the spot will certainly be in good hands.

“Volunteers are important because they keep the sport going – we certainly need more. Everyone’s busy and everyone is time-poor these days, but you can get a lot out of it personally as well.

“I’ve met a lot of really amazing people and have got to do a whole lot of amazing things and had some really great opportunities being a volunteer and I’d recommended it. If you’re passionate about league, then put your hand up because there’s so many great things and positive things that come out of it.”

On behalf of the Canterbury Rugby League community and the Rockcote Bulls, we wish to offer our heartfelt gratitude to Mel for the enormous contribution she has made to the game over several years.

Canterbury Rugby League will advertise the manager position for the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls in the near future.

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