The man who led Wairarapa-Bush to their first and only Meads Cup title as a player, now plans to repeat the feat as the coach.
Joe Harwood has been named as head coach of Farriers Wairarapa Bush Heartland for 2017 and 2018.
The 36 year-old takes over from Josh Syms who has been at the helm for the last two years.
Harwood says he is both humbled and thrilled at his appointment.
“Obviously it comes with a big responsibility, but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Harwood says.
As a player Harwood was characterized by his tough, lead-by-example style which saw Wairarapa-Bush win the inaugural Meads Cup in 2006. Coached then under Peter Russell, Wairarapa-Bush beat hot favourites Wanganui in the final. Seven players from that team were named in the 2006 New Zealand Heartland team, which Harwood was captain.
Harwood took a break from the game in 2010 hanging up his playing boots, but returned in 2013 as a coach at college level and then back at his old club, Carterton. Along with long-time former Wairarapa-Bush team mate James Bruce, the pair were assistants to Syms for the last two seasons. Bruce has been retained as an assistant for next year, and Gavin Hodder re-appointed as manager.
Wairarapa-Bush have made the Meads Cup semi-finals in the last two years.
Harwood says a priority for him will be sitting down with the club coaches as well as some of the senior players soon with the view of building towards next season.
The appointment of Harwood is a clear indication from the Wairarapa-Bush board that they have faith in the work that has been done over recent years to develop both players and coaches.
“As part of our strategic plan set out in 2013 we wanted to be in a position where we could appoint within and ensure we had enough candidates locally to fill key roles within the union,” Wairarapa-Bush CEO Tony Hargood says.
After reviewing the 2016 season, the board believes that Wairarapa-Bush has enough coaches now developing their skills to come through the ranks over the next three to five years, Hargood says.
Additionally the board has announced a number of strategic initiatives which they hope will continue the development of rugby in Wairarapa. Among them is by 2019 fielding a Heartland team made up of local players and “players of origin” only. “We need a couple of seasons to get there but the timing is right.”
Hargood says, given the reliance on “import players” from all Heartland teams – particularly the top echelon – it is a bold step, but one they are ready to commit to.
“We have a number of other coaches who we have met with locally and we will now look to ensure they get all the opportunities to develop their skills through club and representative competition,” Hargood says.
“As for the players – it is a clear message that they don’t need to look over their shoulders anymore – if you are playing club rugby, working hard and enjoying the game – you are going to get selected.”