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No Gladstone in premier rugby

One of Wairarapa-Bush’s most successful clubs this century, Gladstone, won’t have a team in the 2024 Premier Club Rugby Championship.

Gladstone president Steve Thompson confirmed yesterday that a lack of numbers at training had forced their hand, and there would be no premier team representing the club for the first time since 1997.

He said coach Charlie Bargh has not had enough players turning up for trainings, and the club didn’t want the same issues of last season when they often struggled to field a team.

“They [the players] say they’re coming, but we haven’t seen the numbers, and we didn’t really want to be going through that again, knowing what they went through last year, and this year would have been even worse,” Thompson said.

“Some players have already gone to other clubs because of a lack of numbers, and it was even worse when they left, but you don’t blame them, really.”

After the club’s struggles in 2023, a meeting was held in September for ideas on how to reverse the trend of declining numbers. Thompson said although some good suggestions, such as trying to recruit players from overseas, mainly from the Pacific islands and Wales where the club had some connections, “not much came out of that in terms of people putting their hand up, and we couldn’t really go ahead and try and push for it when we didn’t have the numbers here in our own backyard.”

Gladstone will field a senior reserve side, to be coached by Thompson, including some of last year’s premier players to build a team around.

Thompson also plans to put some structures in place with the aim of returning to the top division, although he admits it won’t be an easy fix, and it won’t happen quickly.

“We’ll be working pretty hard to get that back on track, not necessarily by getting players in but looking after the players we’ve got and building the numbers over the season and next season,” he said.

Although Gladstone have been one of the dominant clubs of the 21st century, they had previously spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in the second division.

After winning their first Wai-Bush senior championship in 1980, a few seasons later, Gladstone were entrenched in the second division and didn’t return to the senior championship until the late 1990s after Thompson had picked up the coaching role in 1997.

A second championship followed in 2001, and further championships were won in 2007, 2011, 2017, and 2018. In the years when Gladstone didn’t take the major honours, the “gold and blacks” were rarely out of championship contention and were perennial semifinalists, as well as making several finals.

Over that time, the club produced some outstanding Wai-Bush representatives, including tough-as-teak lock Andrew McLean, fellow middle-rower Andrew Smith, front-rower Richard Puddy, halfback and now Martinborough coach James Bruce, versatile back Cameron Hayton, and the union’s most recent centurion Inia Katia, who has played recent seasons for Carterton. just to name a few.

Gladstone’s withdrawal leaves eight teams in the premier championship, with Masterton Red Star returning to the top division for the first time in four years.

Wai-Bush chief executive officer Tony Hargood, although disappointed to lose a team from the competition, is “really confident that there are some really good people out there and give them a bit of time and they’ll be back on their feet, but it’s good to see Masterton Red Star back in the competition.”

Two-time defending champions Carterton, Greytown, Martinborough, Pioneer, Marist, Masterton Red Star, East Coast, and Eketāhuna will make up the premier division.

Hargood also confirmed that Feathertson will return to the senior reserve competition after several years absence from the men’s competitions.

Hargood said the Council of Clubs will meet tonight to discuss the formats for the season, which is expected to kick off on April 6.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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