He Tauaa life member Frances Wharepapa says national award a boost for Southland rugby league
He Tauaa life member Frances Wharepapa's thoughts quickly flashed to 'the class of '83' when the Southland rugby league club were honoured at a national level on Friday night.
The club was named New Zealand Rugby League's grassroots club of the year at an NZRL awards function in Auckland - one of the proudest moments in He Tauaa's 34-year history.
He Tauaa was formed in 1983 after members of the Waikiwi Warriors club - Colton Lambert, Ray Mackie and Sonny Kotuhi - walked away from an annual general meeting thinking it was time for a change.
After a get together at Mackie's house He Tauaa was formed and over the next 34 years they have been a key figure in Southland rugby league.
In recent times they have won the Southland club title on four straight occasions.
Wharepapa said it was a special occasion being able to add the 2017 NZRL honour to the club's proud history.
"It is for the class of '83, they were the founding members, they got us to where we are today. The award is for everyone, not just for us present day ones but for everyone from 1983," Wharepapa said.
Wharepapa said the reaction to the award, from past and present members, had been overwhelming.
Included in the phone calls was one from He Tauaa's first president Sonny Kotuhi.
"It doesn't matter where you go in New Zealand or the world you seem to bump into an ex He Tauaa person.
"We've got a big contingent of the class of '83 in Australia and they have all been congratulating us."
While the four straight Southland club titles is impressive it is He Tauaa's work off the field which prompted NZRL Southern Zone general manager Steve Martin to nominate the Invercargill club for the national award.
He Tauaa took up an opportunity this year to champion the "It's Not OK" campaign in Invercargill, which spreads the message that violence is not right.
He Tauaa committee member Chris Perriam was heavily involved and said they 'jumped at the chance' to push the message.
"A lot of us have been in that situation where we've seen family violence, and not just family violence but violence as a whole. We thought we would try lead the charge in spreading the message," Perriam said.
Wharepapa felt the club of the year honour was not just a boost for He Tauaa but for rugby league in Southland in general.
"For me personally I take the award as not only something He Tauaa can be proud of but it is a thumbs up for league in Invercargill. Because often we get overlooked everywhere.
"I see it as a positive for rugby league in Southland."
The other finalists for the award were Richmond Rabbits (Nelson) and Takahiwai (Northland).
On top of He Tauaa's award, Southland Rams manager Alana Lockhorst, who is also involved with the Cooks club in Invercargill, was also named a finalist for the female volunteer of the year award.