Curiosity, loyalty, bring fans out in force
If there was ever a night for Southland Sharks fans to come out in force, it was last night - and they did.
More than 2100 fans turned out to support Paul Henare and his depleted team.
Last week's headlines did not deter them from showing their support - in fact, the Sharks may have gained some extra support.
Three players were suspended after an incident in New Plymouth, which was compounded by Gareth Dawson also being stood down after a positive drugs test.
These events forced Sharks coach Henare and former player Dan Peck out of retirement.
Last night's game against Taranaki attracted almost as many people as the Sharks' opening game against Otago - one of the biggest of the season so far.
The rousing cheers from the crowd were among the loudest yet.
For many, last night was their first time at a game - curiosity getting the better of them.
One man said he came to the game because there had "been a bit of publicity" around the team.
Fan Nathan White said he came to most games. "Even after the recent trouble, I am here to support my team," he said.
For many, Henare, who started, was the star attraction.
John Thornley watches the Sharks every week. But last night was a "special game". "I am excited about watching Henare and Dan Peck. It's not every day this happens."
Season ticket holders Steve Gutsell and Craig Tucker were among members of Agent Orange.
"We are excited about Paul Henare playing," Gutsell said.
It had been a tough week for the Sharks and it was important to show support, he said.
"We know how hard Jill [Bolger] has worked to get the team up and running this week and it's at times like this we stick with our team through thick and thin," Tucker said.
Sharks board chairman Carl Alsweiler said the support meant a great deal to the team who had "dug deep" this week.
Henare showed real commitment to the team and that pleased the fans and this was evident from the crowds reaction and the numbers who attended. "We are lucky to have this many people here tonight. We have the best fans in New Zealand."
The Southland Times