It was a memorable season on the pitch for the Otumoetai Eels Rugby League Club – going all the way to the semis in the boiling league cauldron that is Waikato. But no sooner had the final whistle sounded than the Eels season imploded.
“I am not coaching the Eels next year.” That was coach Grant Sundborn’s out-of-the-blue shock resignation message texted to The Weekend Sun. “I have enjoyed myself, a great team and a great club.” He was honest and diplomatic to the end.
Sundborn, in his first year at the Eels, took the club to a semi-final and third place in the physically tough and competitive Waikato competition. “He’s a very successful coach and an asset to get the team to where he did – phenomenal,” says Eels president Karl McNeill.
However there were some politics at play within the club according to Karl. “A little bit of drama, but something we are sorting through.” At the time of going to press there was no update on progress with negotiations.
Sunborn’s text message to The Weekend Sun didn’t allude to his reasons for quitting, although it’s understood it has to do with selection issues and the dissatisfaction of one player and his supporters. Sunborn only discussed the on-field fortunes with The Sun.
“We would have done better, but with injuries it became impossible.” The highlight for Sundborn in what seems to be his one and only season with the Otumoetai Eels was beating the Ngaruawahia Panthers, a club that’s over 100 years old.
“I am now going to spend more time with my family,” says Sunborn, who has a family and home in Foxton.
“Really, really, really sad.” And that from a man who suffered Sundborn’s success throughout the season, beaten on a couple of occasions. “They have had a top season, a brilliant year, I don’t understand,” says James ‘Jock’ Nicholson, the steward of the Papamoa Bulldogs.
Sundborn and Nicholson may have coached opposition, but there was a mutual respect and they collaborated at a representative level. “I know he made a lot of sacrifices to be doing what he was doing. We will miss him, his skills and his experience.”
When The Weekend Sun last spoke to Karl McNeil, he was still hopeful of resolving the issue that drove Sundborn away. “We are working to change his mind, we are working to keep him. That’s what I am working on. I am dealing with that as we talk.”