Win or lose the Meads Cup final tomorrow, North Otago coach Jason Forrest can look back on his first season in the top job with pride.
Forrest and assistant coach Nick Anderson have guided North Otago back to the pinnacle of Heartland rugby – and taken the Hanan Shield back from South Canterbury along the way.
“It comes down to the group of guys I’ve had in front of me this year,” Forrest said.
“And that’s due to Nick and I picking the right people, picking the right loan players, picking the right local boys.”
A big focus of the year was instilling a good team culture. Even the loan players who arrived this season had bought into what the coaches and team leaders were trying to instil, he said.
“We knew if we could get the off-field stuff right, the on-field stuff would follow.
“We have had some hard work, but still had fun at the same time – it’s what has got us to where we are today.”
Forrest said the team deserved to be in the Meads Cup final.
“Just making the Meads Cup was outstanding, and now to be in the final at home, it’s still pretty surreal.”
Forrest had always had a passion for coaching, and was even coaching youth teams during his playing days for Excelsior and North Otago.
“It’s a progression that, hopefully, I can continue, but at this stage I’m pretty happy to be where I am now.”
Rugby has taken Forrest around the world – he has played in Australia, Holland, America and Wales.
His playing days “realistically” finished in 2012, but he did lace up the boots as recently as 2016.
“It was a life experience, and good to see how rugby was run in different countries.”
Forrest said he was lucky enough to have been coached by some quality rugby brains during some of North Otago’s golden years.
“Barry Matthews, Glen Moore, Barry Stevens .. Mike Mullins was outstanding around some of the technical stuff.
“Rat [Matthews] was a big mentor of mine – he has been helping us out the last couple of weeks.
“You just take those little things away from every one.”
The coaching partnership with Anderson this year had worked out well, he said.
“We bounce off each other, and where we are at is because of him as well.