By Gary Caffell
Joe Harwood won’t be coaching the Carterton Rugby Club’s premier side in 2017.
Instead he will be focusing entirely on his new role as head coach of Wairarapa-Bush’s Heartland championship squad, an appointment which was confirmed yesterday.
Harwood said he “thoroughly enjoyed” his debut season as Carterton coach this year when they finished runners-up to Greytown in the Tui Cup competition but there was no way he could combine that with the Wairarapa-Bush job.
His priority now is to strike up a good working relationship with all the club coaches in the Wairarapa-Bush union, something which would include attending some of their training sessions, and to do everything possible to properly monitor the progress of players with the skill and desire to represent their union at the top levels.
“In fairness you just can’t follow one team around, you have to try and treat every club the same,” Harwood said.
“And you can’t make an honest assessment of players unless you are keeping a close eye on them.”
Harwood is grateful to the support given him by his manager at Child, Youth and Family in Masterton, something which allows him to successfully mix work with his rugby commitments.
He has the label of youth justice co-ordinator with that job seeing him dealing with young offenders and the various community service oprganisations and whanau who help in their rehabilitation.
“I love working with young people and I guess the man management skills required there are very useful when it comes to the rugby as well, the two are pretty similar in that regard.”
On the question of support the 36-year-old father of four young children aged from 10yrs to 18 months, is also quick to emphasise the importance of that given him by wife Nicola.
“Frankly I wouldn’t have even considered the rugby position without her blessing, it’s going to be a really busy time for me but probably even busier for her!”
Harwood’s own leadership qualities on the rugby field were realised at a young age.
Invariably in the front row either as a hooker or prop, he was captain of the Wairarapa College first XV under Roger Dee, who went on to become a Wairarapa-Bush coach himself, captained the Carterton senior club side, captained Wairarapa-Bush from 2006 to 2010, including a Meads Cup title in 2006 and a Lochore Cup title in 2010 and captained the New Zealand Heartland team to Argentina in 2006 and the United States in 2008.
It was, in fact, a bad neck injury in that 2010 Lochore Cup final which ended Harwood’s playing career, a decision which he says was very much based around family considerations.
“It wasn’t a planned retirement but, really there was no other option.
“I couldn’t risk making the injury even more serious.”
The possibility of getting involved in coaching was always on Harwood’s radar once his playing days were over and after a brief break from the game he assisted with the Rathkeale College first XV and Carterton premier sides before taking the head coaching role at Carterton.
For the past two seasons he and James Bruce have also been assistant coaches to Josh Syms for the Wairarapa-Bush Heartland squad, a situation which Harwood sees as the ideal apprenticeship to now stepping into Syms’ shoes.
“Josh is a very hard act to follow, he is an outstanding coach technically and myself and Brucey learnt a hell of a lot from him.”
Harwood is delighted to have Bruce stay on as assistant coach for the 2017 season.
The two often played together right from their schooldays through to representative rugby and have a very similar coaching philosophy, which is based around doing the simple things well while still adopting an expansive and aggressive approach.
Pleasing too for Harwood is the willingness of Gavin “Grasshooper” Hodder to continue as team manager.
“I don’t think some people realise how important Gavin has been to the side in recent years, he has been the glue in the whole operation but a lot of what he does is behind the scenes and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”