The North Otago Heartland Rugby team came off the field second best on Saturday, but it was still a champion season.
Yesterday afternoon, players, coaches, officials, volunteers and supporters in North Otago were recognised for their efforts throughout the 2013 season at the North Otago Rugby Football Union Awards.
North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson kicked off the awards by commending the Heartland side for a fantastic season.
“For our Heartland side to lose the first two games and then to go on and make the final is an incredible achievement,” Jackson said.
“The team showed guts and fortitude for the whole season, I don’t think there’s one game we could say nobody in the team tried. That was the culture in our team this year.”
It was a gutsy decision to re-appoint Mike Mullins as coach for 2013, Jackson said, but Mullins had proved himself and contributed to the “fantastic success” of the team this year.
“He’s come through and him and Troy [Looms] have been a fantastic coaching team,” he said.
The 2013 Heartland team had been made up of players from all sides of the world, including Wales, England and Fiji. Domestically, players had also come from Dunedin and Napier.
“Every year we have a new group of boys, we put them into a pot, mix them all up and out comes a terrific team which plays for our small little rugby union and every year they do bloody well,” Jackson said.
It’s always a big culture change for the international players to come to North Otago and Jackson thanked them for their commitment.
Coach Mike Mullins said it had been a pleasure to be part of the coaching team again for 2013.
“It’s been a successful season, obviously [the final] for some of us who have tasted successes in the past, it’s another milestone of where you want to get to and what you want to achieve,” he said.
Robbie Smith, named 2013 Player of the Year, said it had been “awesome” to represent the Old Golds again.
“It was an awesome effort to make the final and we’ll come back next year and bring the Meads Cup back home,” he said.
Matt Duff was awarded Maori Player of the Year 2013, for his hard work throughout the season – on and off the field.
The Awards weren’t all about the Heartland squad though, as Jackson recognised the young talent rising through the ranks, as well as the representative sides from the U48kg side to the U18s.
“All have been successful, all tried their heart out, we don’t have the numbers but by hell we play well for the jersey of North Otago,” he said.
Tara Taylor, captain of the Waitaki Girls’ High School rugby team, which won the South Canterbury combined competition for the first time since 2000, was awarded the August Foods Trophy for Junior Player of the Year 2013.
“She was the captain and a leader of the WGHS team… She was obviously just a standout of the last couple of years. Led from the front, a leader at school and just a great all-round individual,” Jason Forrest said.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean congratulated the North Otago Rugby Union “family” for a “wonderful, wonderful” year.
“I’m so full of admiration for the Heartland team, who not only played in those [windy] conditions, but played out of their skins,” she said.
“Next year it’s going to be even better.”
She singled out Taylor for her achievements with Waitaki Girls’ High School rugby and beating out a field of very talented young men and women to take the title of Junior Player of the Year.
“I do hope that you will go far in rugby, I suspect you will, and that you go far in life,” Dean said.
“Don’t underestimate your achievement because it is truly magnificent.”
North Otago Rugby Union chairman Bill Dean addressed the crowd at the Awards yesterday, a particularly important Awards ceremony as his last year as chairman.
“For me the standouts are the people involved and when I look around the room, I look at Robbie Smith – I remember you as a 5-year-old,” he said.
“Lemi [Masoe] we go back a long way and it’s been great to see you progress and get citizenship and build yourself – personally and with rugby.
“This year’s competition, like so many other years, has been a rollercoaster ride, which we’ve enjoyed every turn and up and down of.”
Jackson concluded the Awards by saying, despite finishing second, 2013 was still a champion season and all of the players could be proud of their efforts.
Today the 2014 season starts, he said.
“There will be a new bunch of players coming in, ones who are staying – we want to make you bigger, faster, bolder and we want to win the Heartland next year. Second is not quite good enough – we want to be the champions,” Jackson said.
North Otago Rugby Football Union Awards 2013
Player of the Year – Robbie Smith
Maori Player of the Year – Matt Duff
Volunteer of the Year – Tim Petrie
Junior Player of the Year 2013 – Tara Taylor
Development Team 2013
Best Back – Seti Talalelei
Best Forward – Jeremiah Shields
Player of the Year – Hamish McCulloch
Top Try Scorer – Chris Talanoa
Top Points Scorer – Ed Keohane
Best Back – Robbie Smith
Best Forward – Samisoni Tongotongo
North Otago Rugby New Zealand Heartland Representatives
Ralph Darling, Lemi Masoe, Eric Duff and Chris Talanoa.