The players, coaches and supporters gathered for the senior team’s prizegiving event at the Te Aroha Events Centre on Friday night.
Thames Valley Rugby Union chief executive Edmond Leahy agreed the team’s performance was a marked improvement on the 2016 season, when the team drew one match and lost seven others.
“It’s been a big improvement on last year in terms of where we have come from, it’s quite satisfying, we’ve really stepped up,” Leahy said.
“I think there are a number of factors, not just one thing in particular you can easily identify. I think there has been an overall improvement in all areas.”
Leahy singled out the match against Buller, in round four on September 16, as one of the best of the season.
Thames Valley, playing at home in Paeroa, knocked over Buller 26-7.
“That was quite a satisfying win. It was a comprehensive win over a very strong side.
The game was delayed for over an hour while an ambulance arrived and he was taken to hospital.
The match kicked off at 1.30pm and resumed around 3pm, Thames Valley securing the win.
“I also think the game against Wanganui was one that everyone felt we should have won.
“We lost by two points (21-19), they were a top side and we outplayed them but we just didn’t take our chances to clinch the game.”
Leahy said the recruitment system, whereby Heartland teams can have three loan players and a player of origin, had worked out well for the union this season.
The three loan players included former Waikato captain Alex Bradley (United Matamata Sports), Harrison Lafituanai (Melville) and Aaron Carrol (Mt Maunganui Sports), while the player of origin was Brett Ranga (Mt Maunganui).
“In terms of giving them exposure at first class level, it’s a great chance for them. Most of these players come from Mitre 10 unions where unless they make the starting lineup, the chances of them getting game time could be remote,” Leahy said.
“So coming to a union like Thames Valley and playing Heartland rugby is very good for their profiles and it’s also a great advantage for us as well. It enables us to bring in a fairly good calibre of footballers to add to our squad.”
Leahy said he hoped the union could retain this year’s team to kick off the 2018 season.
He was also happy with the way the players had responded to coach Matthew Bartleet, in his first season in the job, and assistant coaches David Harrison and Joe Murray.
Leahy would not say whether this year’s coaching staff would return for 2018.
“It’s too soon to talk about that at the moment.”
Speaking just before the start of the prizegiving event, Leahy hoped the team would spend some time to recognise their efforts this season.
“Tonight is about celebrating our success. Even though we didn’t bring home any silverware, there’s been a lot of good rugby played this year and a lot of sharp performances by guys in the squad.
“I think that’s a really good reason to celebrate and to recognise their high standard of performance.”
- Most improved, Siti Tupou
- Rookie of the year, Sam McCahon
- Iron Man, Sam McCahon and Brett Ranga
- Most dedicated team man, Shaun Hill
- Player of the year, Brett Ranga.
Popular Choice Awards:
- Try of the year, Hayden Wisnewski (vs Buller)
- Smashed ’em bro, Alex Bradley (vs Mid Canterbury)
- Players Choice, Loan Player of the Year, Alex Bradley
- Players Choice, Player of the Year, Connor McVerry