Maheno means everything to Chris Jennings.
The country rugby club has been Jennings’ second home since he moved from Southland to North Otago eight years ago. He turned out for the club from 2014 to 2017 — playing in the 2016 Citizens Shield›winning side — and when he officially hung up the boots, became head coach in 2018.
In 2019, North Otago head coach Jason Forrest took over at the country club, leading Maheno to another Citizens Shield victory, but Jennings was involved in coaching the side at the end of that season, when Forrest had Heartland commitments.
After taking some time out, Jennings returned this year, co› coaching alongside Marty McAtamney.
‘‘The club means a lot to me and I wanted to give back a little bit and help out where I can,’’ Jennings said.
Maheno was in a rebuilding phase, after losing several players from last season, and Jennings wanted to help grow numbers, pull the players together and create something special.
‘‘The part of coaching I like the most is the psychology of it and trying to get the best out of the players that’s going to bring a team together.’’
The club had a disjointed pre-season, struggling for player numbers. In the opening round, Maheno played with just 14 men for part of its clash against Old Boys, and about three players were injured from the match.
But Jennings was optimistic for the season ahead, and determined the club would make the most of the Citizens Shield competition.
‘‘It’s just about getting better every week. That’s what we’re focusing on, and putting out performances . . .that we’re proud of.
‘‘One of our ethos is that once you pull on the green and black hoops, the excuses stop and you go out there and do your job. That’s something that’s never sort of wavered in my whole time I’ve been involved with the club.’’
Jennings has never been far from a rugby field. A ‘‘born and bred Southland boy’’, he played for Pirates Old Boys in Invercargill, before spending time overseas in the United States and United Kingdom.
He returned to Southland, playing for Pirates Old Boys from 2009 to 2013, before he and wife Sarah, who is the Moke company director, had a stint in China. They moved to North Otago in 2014.
Jennings was excited to be involved with Maheno rugby again, and said it was great to have McAtamney coaching alongside him.