Happy days at last for Bay of Plenty rugby

Photo: File.

It has not been easy supporting the Bay of Plenty Steamers over the years.

It has mostly been a case of “Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere”, to paraphrase West Ham United’s anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, rather than ‘We are the Champions’.

My journey began as a little kid packed in with 21,000 others at the Tauranga Domain in 1971 when the Bay came so close to beating the record-breaking British Lions side.

I’ve often thought there was a sporting curse on the Steamers.

Perhaps no other union could win the inaugural NPC in 1976 then get relegated the next year.

Certainly the Ranfurly Shield challenges have been blighted apart from one success against Auckland in 2004.

In 1922 against the famous Hawke’s Bay side, Bay of Plenty missed a last-second conversion from in front to lose 17-16. Against Canterbury in 1984, Bay’s Peter Kennedy scored near the posts with time up and only the conversion needed to win the shield, but the local referee ruled the try out.

At Eden Park in 1996, the Steamers were ahead 29-11 with just eight minutes to play and somehow lost the game. In 2015 Bay of Plenty lost 23-17 to Hawke’s Bay after what was a legitimate last-play try was ruled out in error by referee Ben O’Keeffe.

But that is all in the past.

With Bay of Plenty’s magnificent start to the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup Championship it seems the curse has finally lifted on the blue and golds.

Back-to-back wins over Premiership sides Taranaki and Counties Manukau have shown levels of resilience and playing depth not normally associated with the Steamers.

Last Thursday night they fielded their fifth and sixth-ranked hookers in Te Puna’s Angus McDonald and Greerton Marist’s Joe Key, with both playing key roles in the inspired 22-17 victory.

The level of depth across all positions in the squad is testimony to the work done in attracting players by Director of Rugby and Maori All Blacks coach, Clayton McMillan, with the full support and backing of CEO Mike Rogers and the Bay of Plenty board.

And what a difference it is making.

Long-term the future looks positive indeed.

Making full use of the magnificent University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance based at Blake Park, some of the brightest young talent from top-class first XVs in Auckland, Hamilton, Hastings, Rotorua and Tauranga are starring for the Bay of Plenty under-19 side.

Last Saturday they thrashed the Taranaki under-19 side 94-0 in a fearsome show of power rugby. They will be highly favoured at next month’s Jock Hobbs Memorial National U19 tournament in Taupo.

The experience of playing Super Rugby for much of the starting forwards is another key factor in the great start by the Steamers. The improvement in flanker Mitchell Karpik’s game from another season mentored by Sam Cane at the Chiefs is clearly evident.

Next up for the Steamers is the mighty Canterbury team on Saturday here in Tauranga.

Wins over the red and blacks are rare indeed but this is the best chance in years.

So grab a ticket and give the shaky old Tauranga Domain another glory day – just like in 1971 but with a better result.