Rugby league is on the rise in Waitaki.
The Waitaki Warriors had their first outing of the season on Saturday, falling short 22-12 against Otago University at Centennial Park. The team sits second in the Otago Rugby League senior men’s competition after winning by default against South Pacific the week prior.
Coach James Ahu said he was pleased with the Warriors’ performance last Saturday.
‘‘It was a very good hit-out,’’ Ahu said.
‘‘Quite happy with it being our first run because we actually haven’t had much training because of weather . . . obviously shutting down all the fields.’’
Ahu, who has been involved with the team for the past two seasons, said he was enjoying getting the squad of 30 players together this season. Eight players returned from last season.
‘‘[It’s] the whole team aspect, actually.
‘‘There’s some young guys that have never played before that have approached us and been part of the team.’’
The ‘‘window of opportunity’’ came when the club rugby season finished and Ahu tried to attract players from there. Many players were interested in a change and there were even a few footballers involved.
‘‘Rugby league seems to be an opportunity to play something different.’’
Rugby league began in North Otago in the late 1990s, when Ahu and his friend, Mana Wooldridge, started the North Otago Knights. The team was abandoned but Wooldridge always wanted bring it back and started the Waitaki Warriors three years ago.
‘‘It was his dream to bring rugby league back to North Otago,’’ Ahu said.
Ahu, who took over as coach after Wooldridge died last year, said he was excited about the opportunities rugby league could bring to the region.
The Otago Rugby League season finishes at the end of next month and the Waitaki Warriors were planning a memorial game for Wooldridge against South Canterbury rugby league players.
‘‘It should be a fun game, really. If anybody wants to contact me and join in, they’re more than welcome.’’
Ahu was grateful to committee members Luke Taylor, Nick Robinson, Tanya Sanderson and Moana Hetaraka for helping guide rugby league in the district and the team’s sponsors for supporting the sport.
The team is scheduled to play the Kia Toa Tigers in Oamaru tomorrow, but Ahu expected the game to be cancelled due to the weather.
Anyone interested in rugby league can contact Ahu on Facebook or join the Waitaki Warriors Facebook group.