Sopoaga can break a new trail

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2014
Lima Sopoaga
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
LIMA SOPAGA: "I'm looking forward to getting to Southland and giving my all for my new team."

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Nice signature ...

Is Lima Sopoaga Southland rugby's best signing yet?

Time will answer that question, but I cannot recall a more positive rugby signing for Southland than that of the current Highlanders first five-eighth.

The fact he is a starting Super Rugby player, who is in form, for a start, outdoes a lot of the imports we have had over the years.

Also, he is only 23.

He is not just beefing up his retirement fund at the end of his career - like others who have been pulled in over the years - which makes it an even better fit.

It must, however, be noted that singing from the rooftops following a Southland rugby signing can be dangerous.

A notable player I can think of who falls into this category was Crusaders wing James Patterson. He signed with Southland in 2010 and had then chief executive Roger Clark clearly excited.

Patterson made the move from a powerful Crusaders team.

He was the first player to sign on with the Highlanders and opt for Southland as his province of choice instead of Otago.

Patterson didn't turn out to be the backline spark the Stags were hoping for as injury and poor form limited his impact in the south.

Speaking of signings ...

Jim Doyle's appointment as the Warriors chief executive for 2015 and beyond won't create the same sort of talk as say the signing of Englishman Sam Tomkins or New South Wales second-rower Ryan Hoffman. But don't be mistaken - this is a big signing for the Auckland-based NRL club.

Doyle has an immense amount of respect in league, both in New Zealand and Australia. It started when he was the face of the dramatic transformation of New Zealand Rugby League.

The NZRL had a massive vote of no-confidence from Sport NZ as to the way the sport was being run.

The Scottish businessman was handed the role of NZRL chief executive in 2009 and made startling strides with the game in New Zealand as rugby league did not just save face but grew under his watch.

That impressive work prompted the NRL to call on Doyle's expertise as they offered him the major role of NRL chief operating officer in 2012.

It is hardley surprising the Warriors have head-hunted Doyle for a return to New Zealand.

More on the Warriors . . .

If there was ever an advert to a good home not being all about the flash trimmings and the size of the section, the Warriors are that advert.

Regional Facilities Auckland wanted the club to work towards a permanent move from Mt Smart Stadium to the city's premier outdoor stadium Eden Park.

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The Warriors obliged and started the process, which included this year playing their early season home games at Eden Park.

Mt Smart was regarded as run down and Eden Park was thought to be the way forward.

Instead what emerged is everyone involved at the Warriors - the players and supporters - felt homesick and pined for Mt Smart Stadium.

On Sunday the club played their first game at Mt Smart and yesterday the club issued a press release saying the Eden Park experiment was over.

In 2015, they are committed to playing their home games at Mt Smart, the release said.

Eden Park is good for test matches and the NRL Nines - events that attract sellout crowds. But for crowds 20,000 or less the smaller, more homely stadiums are a better fit.

I look at a team like the Auckland NPC rugby side which attract just a few thousand people to home games. It is off-putting when you turn on the television and see that number watching a game at at a massive venue like Eden Park.

The real sporting stars ...

There were many people I was pleased for on Friday night at the Southland Sports Awards.

As usual I tended to feel the most deserving awards were for those who picked up the Services to Sport honours. While the star athletes often grab the headlines it is the people behind the scenes who make sport happen - this is why in The Southland Times we have run a Legends of Sport series to acknowledge these wonderful people.

On Friday night, Brian McKenzie (basketball), George Kempton (rowing) and Elaine Kartsen (softball) were all deserving recipients of the Services to Sport honour after many years of toil for their sport.

There was another award recipient I was extra pleased for on Friday night who also fills into this type of category.

It was Southland District Rugby League's Cheryl Officer, who won the Administrator of the Year category.

I've watched on in recent years as she, almost single-handedly, has kept rugby league alive in Southland. She has done it all on a volunteer basis.

While not a powerhouse sport, rugby league has a good following in Southland and many kids want to play it.

However, the reality is the sport in the deep south lacks the skills at a governance level to cater for this interest. As a result Officer has had to carry most of the workload.

Lets hope her recognition on Friday night can lead to her getting a helping hand from other people with these required skills and knowledge.

- The Southland Times

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