Spectre of Covid hangs over winter codes

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North Otago sporting bodies are trying to figure out how they will navigate the coming winter sports season. Kayla Hodge tracks down rugby, netball, football, and hockey officials to hear how their seasons are shaping up under Covid-19 regulations.

RUGBY

A positive response to last year’s re-jigged Citizens Shield has resulted in the changes being made permanent.

The Club Rugby Council agreed last week to keep the format of two rounds, followed by a three-week finals set-up.

In the semifinals, first and second qualifiers play each other, as do third and fourth. The winner of the first semifinal goes straight to the final, while the loser plays the winner from the other match for the other spot in the final. The competition will get under way on April 2, with the final scheduled for July 9.

North Otago Rugby chief executive Colin Jackson said clubs were backing the new format.

‘‘Every game is meaningful, as opposed to, there was always a drop-off in that third round,’’ Jackson said.

‘‘I just think it’s quality over quantity.’’

The president’s grade final will also return to the same day as the Citizens Shield final.
Club development officer Georgie Sturgess said the decision came from club feedback.

While a president’s grade draw was yet to be finalised, Sturgess hoped to start the four-team competition — between Excelsior, Valley, Union and Kurow — on May 14.

Meanwhile, the Waitaki Wahine has been training with good numbers and a coaching team was expected to be named soon.

North Otago Rugby was taking direction from New Zealand Rugby regarding Covid-19 and protocols would be put in place.

Development officer Jason Forrest said JAB was a work in progress, but would start in May.
Forrest isalso the North Otago Heartland coach, and is organising an elite training group, alongside North Otago rugby fitness trainer Glen Sturgess, in preparation for this year’s Meads Cup.

Forrest also wanted to reinstate the Town v Country match this year.

‘‘I just want to give the local boys the biggest opportunity they can to put their hands up first and that’s where I think town verse country could be very good for us this year.’’

NETBALL

North Otago Netball is hopeful for a smoother, and drier, season this year.

Rain disrupted much of last season’s competitions, and then the finals were cancelled due to Covid-19.

North Otago Netball president Sonya MacDonald said new Covid-19 restrictions were making for a ‘‘messy start’’ this year. Netball will have 100-person bubbles and players aged over 12 must be vaccinated.

The senior competition will start on May 7, finals will be held on August 13, and a rain day has been allocated for August 20. If there are any other rain days, the games will be cancelled and no points will be awarded.

Organisers were excited to get the season under way, MacDonald said.

‘‘We ended on such a frustrating note last year so everyone’s so looking forward to getting back into what we now call ‘normal’ netball,’’ she said.

Senior grades are getting a make over this year. Grades 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.3, and 1.5 will now be Premier A, B, C and Senior A and B respectively. New names gave the grades a ‘‘different flare’’ and kept the competition fresh, she said.

The men’s team will return this season too, and MacDonald said the centre was always looking for more male players. She would love to have more than one men’s team.

‘‘I would be just ecstatic if we could . . . keep building on that.’’

The committee also wanted to send a mixed team to the New Zealand Mixed Nationals in April.

Junior netball is scheduled to start on May 7 for years 5 to 8, and May 14 for year 1 to 4, and would move from Saturday to be played on Friday afternoons.

North Otago Netball is also advertising for a development officer. The position had ‘‘been on the cards’’ for a while and having someone based in North Otago would help develop netball further, MacDonald said.

‘‘We’re really wanting to get that in place and then build from that, so it actually becomes such an important role to our organisation.’’

Registrations for all grades will open in April and MacDonald asked the community to be kind as the committee worked through the new restrictions.

FOOTBALL

More opportunities are being offered to Waitaki footballers this season.

Football South and Football Waitaki are hosting a ‘‘skills centre’’ for players aged 9-13 at Meadowbank’s home ground — the A&P Showgrounds.

The programme will include additional skills and drills sessions for both boys and girls wanting to play football.

Football Waitaki president Twyla Kingan said the sessions, being held in Term 1, were something new and exciting for up-and-coming players.

In previous years there had been ‘‘a bit of a whisper’’ about starting a centre, but since having Football South Waitaki and South Canterbury football development officer Luis Paiva based in Oamaru, it was a good chance to start.

‘‘The reality is that for many Oamaru families and players it’s just in the too-hard basket to either drive up to Timaru or down to Dunedin to be involved in something like this,’’ Kingan said.

Meadowbank Football Club has also put out the call for more female players in a bid to resurrect a senior women’s team. It was an exciting opportunity and Kingan hoped the club got the support for the team.

‘‘It’s a good chance for these girls that are in high school, I’m assuming, to participate in that, and then girls that are just out of high school that are still in Oamaru to not just finish playing the sport that they enjoy, they can carry on.’’

All junior football, including the first kicks programme, will get under way on May 14. Under direction from Football South and Football New Zealand, all players, coaches and team officials must have a vaccine pass, she said.

Any other festivals will be reviewed when the season begins and will depend on Covid-19 regulations.

HOCKEY

Change is afoot at the North Otago Hockey Association.

This season, the Tainui men’s side will play in the Dunedin premier competition, rather than the South Canterbury competition.

President Jared Ovens said the team was feeling ‘‘stale’’ in the Timaru competition, and playing in a premier competition would push players further. The switch brought a lot of interest and enthusiasm back into the team as well.

In Oamaru, a senior men’s competition will be introduced for the first time in nearly 20 years. The Thursday night competition, which would also include Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College, attracted good interest and would add to the mixed competition, played on Friday and Saturdays.

‘‘It’s something that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years,’’ Ovens said.

‘‘Being a mid-week, it ticks a lot of boxes for some people.’’

It will also benefit the secondary school teams, giving them a good opportunity to learn and test their skills at a higher level ahead of this year’s tournaments.

Junior hockey will start in June, and the association will look to hold a couple of festival days for them.

Development officer Ethan Booth will also switch his focus back to hockey for winter, after working for North Otago and Otago Cricket over summer. Booth, a former New Zealand under 18 representative, was a major asset to the association, Ovens said.

An under-18 and under-15 programme will also be established to provide players more opportunities to improve.

Vaccine passes will be required for all players and officials, in line with New Zealand Hockey’s regulations, he said.

Anyone interested in registering for the men’s competition this year can do so through the North Otago Hockey Association Facebook page.