Saturday, 17 November 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

The John Neighbours years - the MBAS First XV from 1978 to 1994

As the Mercury Bay Area School First XV rugby team begins its 2018 season, The Informer decided to take a look back in time and reflect on the team’s early years, from 1978 to 1994. This is sure to rekindle some great memories for former players, parents, supporters and even teachers still residing in the Mercury Bay area.

In 2010, the MBAS First XV won the prestigious Coulter Cup for the very first time. The Coulter Cup is the ultimate rugby trophy for secondary schools in the Thames Valley region and to win it is a major achievement.

One of the many proud people standing on the sideline that day in Paeroa was John Neighbours who, back in 1978, began laying the foundation blocks for this success. In 1977, when John joined the school as head of mathematics, MBAS’s only presence in the Thames Valley Secondary Schools (TVSS) rugby competition was a combined team. The team was made up of players from MBAS and Coromandel Area Schools, playing only in the fourth grade. This blended team was coached by Ken Rush, the MBAS principal at the time.

John was originally drawn to Mercury Bay because of his love for spearfishing, but joining MBAS was the beginning of a long and successful career as a teacher and rugby coach. His passion for the sea never faded though, as he later went on to form the Mercury Bay Spearfishing Club with well-known Mercury Bay local, Peter “Herb” Herbert.

John’s elevation to coach came in 1978 when MBAS went solo, entering a team in the TVSS third grade, which they went on to win. The player honoured with captaining that first MBAS side was Neil Kennedy. He, along with Steven Worth, were considered by John as standout players of the team.

The following year, the First XV earned promotion to the second grade but struggled, not doing so well. They were then relegated back to the third grade for the following two seasons, before working their way back into the higher division, where they remained for the next five years.

Promotion to the first grade finally came in 1987. With John at the helm, the team’s best ever placing in the TVSS Coulter Cup competition came in 1989 with a well-deserved third place. Sean Muir captained the team that year while Mark Rowbottom, Aaron Reid and Clinton Hemopo were considered the star players.

Setting a high standard and having pride in their uniform and school, were a key ingredient of John’s coaching style. “I simply wanted to get the very best out of each player I coached, both on and off the field,” says John. “The team members always wore trousers, a shirt and a tie before and after each game. It helped reinforce a message to the players that they were the elite rugby players of the school, and should be proud to represent both their school and community.”

With the support of MBAS, hosting overseas teams and touring to the other side of the world to play rugby soon became John’s next step. This was another way of giving his players the opportunity to grow and develop as individuals and also to promote MBAS along the way. “Touring and hosting overseas teams meant the team had to learn to work together both on and off the field and learn to communicate well with their visitors or hosts whatever the case may be,” says John.

In 1983 MBAS hosted its first overseas rugby team from Central Queensland Schools. That was followed a year later by Shawnigan Lake School from Canada and Emmaus College from Queensland. Since then, MBAS has hosted teams on a regular basis including teams from England, Canada, Argentina and Australia.

In 1985 MBAS became the first New Zealand co-ed school to play rugby in Canada and then went on to tour Rarotonga in 1987, Queensland in 1990 and Hong Kong in 1992. In 1993 the team played and beat the New Zealand Area Schools Second XV 20 points to nil. The star of that team was Danny Evans who amassed 400 points in two seasons.

By 1994 MBAS had six teams playing in the TVSS competition, a far cry from 17 years earlier when John first got involved.

“Coaching sport at any level is both a privilege and rewarding,” says John. “My job was to provide an opportunity for players to better themselves and learn and appreciate the success that comes from hard work and discipline, from both within and outside the classroom. I would like to think all coaches at the secondary school age level help provide a good platform so students can strive to be as successful as possible in their chosen pathways after school.”

In total John coached the MBAS First XV for 17 straight years and a total of 300 games - including 169 wins and 11 draws. He also prepared the TVSS rugby draw for all grades during that period. A memorable achievement and a great contribution to TVSS rugby.

Caption - The Mercury Bay Area School First XV of 1978. Some of the players are still residing in Mercury Bay. Back, from left to right - C Towgood, K Henson, H Hodge, D Collier, S Worth and C Readhead. Middle, from left to right - John Neighbours (coach), G Moyle, W Davis, G Simpson, S Martinovitch, W Ellin and H McKee. Front, from left to right - D Martinovitch, B Hemopo, N Kennedy (captain), D Simpson (vice-captain), J Lee and R Lowe.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.