Half a century of rugby at Arataki

Arataki Sports Club chairman/president Simon Kuka (left) and club patron Sid Longley (right). Photo. Mathew Nash.

This year will see Arataki Sports Club celebrate 50 years of existence.

Whilst the current Arataki Premiers men’s rugby team are being drilled outside, chairman/president Simon Kuka, club patron Sid Longley and club secretary Tim Foley are inside eulogising the good old days and dreaming of a bright future.

About 40 years ago, Simon faced Arataki as a player for Te Puna and soon made the switch.

“There was a local drinking hole just over there,” he points over the back of his head into the distance. “I have been here ever since. Somebody winked at me and that was it.”

As Simon admits, the club was not immediately successful on the paddock. Big 60 or 70 point losses were commonplace. However, the evening hui is where they would thrive.

“Back then it wasn’t a very strong club but it was a really happy club,” says Simon. “It was really family orientated.”

From there the club started to build. Players would volunteer their weekends to help build the club house.

“Cook us a feed and a couple of beers and that would be our payment,” Simon beams.

Arataki have since become a staple of the Tauranga rugby community whilst also branching out into both softball and netball.

There have certainly been challenges in recent years.

The club has experienced considerable loss. Former club secretary Lawrence Keogh passed away last year. In 2019, Arataki mourned the loss of club patron Patsy Terry-Rawiri, the wife of Michael ‘Big Mike’ Rawiri, club president, who passed away in 2013. All three were driving forces in the continued rejuvenation of the club.

“They put their heart and soul into it,” says Simon. “I mean their heart and soul,” he emphasises, pointing his battle worn hands to his chest.

Community remains the centre of Arataki’s focus as a club. It was a cornerstone made abundantly clear last December when a hui called by Arataki residents aimed at finding solutions to a spate of violent disorder in the area took place at Arataki Community Centre.

The rugby team circled the building for the duration of the hui and offered to accompany anyone who felt anxious about walking home in the dark.

“When I first joined the club we did not have a very good reputation with players and referees,” says Sid. “But now it is the opposite way around. They actually enjoy it.”

Tim is overseeing the club’s junior rugby (JMC) teams this year and is therefore happy to see a culture shift, creating a happy and safe environment on the touchlines.

He also explains how the youth system at Arataki now reflects the changing nature of the local community.

“We are actually seeing a lot of South African parents and English parents,” Tim states.

“What they like is that we are tikanga maori based. Our whole philosophy is based on that whanau feel and they want to have a bit of the culture.”

Developing the JMC is now a key target as Arataki look toward the next 50 years.

“Ultimately it is a pathway,” says director of rugby and Premier’s head coach Craig Dwyer. 

“When the kids think of their club of choice in ten years’ time they think back to us and we are the first club on their mind.”

Craig is excited for the upcoming Baywide Premier Mens campaign, with plenty of Arataki locals in a young squad.

It’s enough to have Simon reaching for the mouthguard.

“Every year it gets more and more exciting,” he says. “It gets me going anyway. When you’re surrounded by good people it makes you want to put the boots back on.”

“Nope,” says Sid, less enthusiastic of the prospect of a playing return, to a chorus of laughter befitting a club house.

“We’ve got a big JMC so there is the future,” Simon enthuses. “We are really striving to be a leader in the area.

As Simon says, a lot has changed in the 50 years since a meeting at Golden Sands Motor Camp in 1971 saw the club dreamt into existence. Simon speaks of the now thriving Papamoa as a darkened road to nowhere when he first laced up on Grenada Street. Every passing car was a friendly face. Now, he laments, it is more like every 20.

The town Arataki Sports Club was born into is no more and the club is doing everything to keep up.

But that whanau feel will always be the bedrock for the black-and-reds.

“Some of the players in Craig’s Premier squad, I used to play with their dads,” says Simon.

“Now I see them running around. That is club rugby.”

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