Rayleen Hogg is not only the "First Woman" in the ranks of the Ohai Nightcaps rugby club, but belongs to a family that has exerted a profound overall influence during the most successful season for the club since the 1974 merger of the historic mining centres.
She was the first woman to be made a life member of the club, in August 2010. The occasion was "very special" because the presentation was made by the club's favourite son, Kevin Laidlaw, a distinguished All Black midfielder in 1960.
"Life membership was an unbelievable thrill for me . . . I was speechless, and I am certainly not known for that as a rule."
There was hardly a rugby season to compare with this one, she reflected. "It has been an awesome season as we have also lifted the Western Banner off Riverton as well as winning the Southlandwide division two competition last Saturday."
Rayleen became the 10th life member of the club when the honour was conferred on her. Her husband, John, was one, Laidlaw another. The other seven are Billy Molloy, Walter Goldsmith, David Greer, Jim Smeaton, Eric Todd, Neville Excell and John Dempster.
Rayleen and John's two sons - Cameron (team manager and part-time medic) and Mitchell, who plays for the champion team - have furthered their parents' love of the national game in their beloved Coalfields district under the umbrella of the Takitimu range in Western Southland.
Rayleen pointed out that husband John was also a qualified medic who had served the club conscientiously.
"It has been good when he has stepped up to help me with the medic work as we have been able to rub ideas off each other." Rayleen was called in at the last minute on Saturday to assist Mike Morris and other players with niggles, aches and pains before the epic grand final against favourites Albion Excelsior. She has been accepted in the changing rooms as if she was one of the boys, and players and officials treat her politely and with respect.
Rayleen stood down two years ago as secretary of the club "to make way for fresh blood" because she didn't want to fall into the trap of "developing staleness".
She had served in that capacity for 12 years, attending to all duties, including media liaison, in which field she has been second to none. At that time, she had moved on to serve the Eastern-Northern Barbarians part-time, which enabled her to assist her Ohai Nightcaps secretarial replacement Jamie Shepherd.
The effervescent and personable 44-year-old has been a valuable public relations official for the club, widely known for her warmth of welcome to visitors.
She did not have time to celebrate the championship triumph on Saturday night because she was involved with Sunday morning training for the Southland women's sevens team, of which she is manager. The team is preparing to qualify at Timaru in November, before the nationals in Rotorua in January.
She was able to catch up with club friends and associates on Sunday afternoon, bathing in the glory of the major success at Gore the day before.
Rayleen unashamedly confessed that the team's gripping win, with character, passion and guts, "all brought a tear to my eye".
Rugby is not her only sporting love; she has enjoyed playing softball for the Panthers in Invercargill for many years.
"I have loved every minute of playing for Panthers for more than 10 years. I've made a lot of buddies in the club. That has been my release and we've taken out a few finals."
Rayleen is the first to point out that the district's commitment to and passion for rugby is as alive today as it was in halcyon mining times. The large turnout of Coalfields supporters at the Gore Showgrounds on Saturday testified to district loyalty and support.
The club's composition had moved on in the passage of time, she said. Men of farming backgrounds now made up the hard core of the team but coach Glen Valli and prolific points-scorer Daniel Low still preserved the meaningful coalmining influence.
Grandparents, parents, friends, past players and officials from all walks of life lined the sidelines, offering vast vocal support, which got their heroic players home in style at Gore.
It was a moment to cherish for all time. Rayleen Hogg considers herself "just one of many" who made it all happen.
- © Fairfax NZ News