Being named Heartland Championship Player of the Year at last week’s New Zealand Rugby Awards was the icing on the cake of what has been a big year for Josh Clark and North Otago Rugby.
Clark beat out team-mate Robbie Smith and Wanganui captain Campbell Hart to win the trophy, presented by All Black Beauden Barrett at the awards night in Auckland last week.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest, because Robbie Smith had an outstanding season – I was going up there as his plus one,” Clark said.
The awards night had plenty of glamour, but Clark stayed true to the rough-and-ready spirit of Heartland rugby.
“I had to get the late flight, put my suit on in the taxi and pretty much head straight to the venue.
“I didn’t have a shower or anything – I was under the pump.”
It was a big rugby season for Clark.
The Dunedin-based builder won the Citizens Shield with Maheno, took on Samoa with the New Zealand Heartland XV, played in a Ranfurly Shield challenge and won the Meads Cup with North Otago.
Clark had first joined the Old Golds as a loan player in 2013. He enjoyed it so much he linked with the Maheno Rugby Club in following years, commuting from Dunedin multiple times a week.
“When I came in 2013, I had never experienced anything like it,” he said.
“Everyone I have met have been good buggers.”
Clark’s arm is still in a cast from an injury he suffered in the Meads Cup final, and he admitted retirement had crossed his mind.
“I don’t know, mate, I mean another [Ranfurly] Shield challenge is pretty exciting . we will see what happens there.”
North Otago Rugby Union chief executive Colin Jackson was delighted Smith and Clark had been nominated and recognised at a national level.
“It’s real reward for both of them. Either of them would have been fantastic, but there had to be a winner and it’s great for Josh,” Jackson said.
“[He] is a fantastic player and a fantastic person.”
It capped off a great year for rugby in North Otago, Jackson said.
“The team have put real credibility back into rugby in North Otago.
“We are excited about 2020 and I’d be hopeful the majority of our squad will be staying.