Dual celebrations for Halswell
The Halswell rugby league club received New Zealand's club of the year award – just in time for its 50th jubilee.
Club president Jeff Whittaker and junior section president Tom Ball were presented with the trophy at the New Zealand Rugby League prizegiving in Wellington last Thursday night. The silverware was centre stage at Halswell's 50th jubilee celebrations on Friday night.
Whittaker, club president for six years, said the prize – awarded for the first time – capped a memorable weekend of festivities.
"Everyone was really chuffed. We had 220 people at the jubilee; it was like having a grand final for three nights. It was fantastic," he said.
The club of the year accolade was a fitting end to an eventful season that saw a young Halswell Hornets premier team win the Gore Cup second-section trophy after setting the early pace in the premiership.
"We had two boys in the New Zealand Merit teams in the [inter-zonal] 15s grade and two in the Merit team for the 17s," Whittaker said.
Premier-grade prop Joseph Pombo is representing Papua New Guinea in the Four Nations competition and Halswell product Matt McIlwrick, a Canberra Raiders Toyota Cup under-20-grade hooker, represented the Junior Kiwis against Australia.
Whittaker said it was a thrill for club members attending the jubilee to be able to watch "a player who came through the club from a five-year-old to representing the Junior Kiwis".
McIlwrick is rated a future first grader, while fellow Halswell graduates Fraser Alcock and Tyler Jarden are in the Cronulla Sharks Toyota Cup squad next year.
Halswell has long been noted as one of Canterbury's biggest and most progressive rugby league clubs.
They have 20 teams – 12 junior and eight senior.
Whittaker said the junior section had "done a fantastic job this year" to boost their playing numbers and the club looked set for a bright future.
The jubilee attracted some of the club's big names from their eight Canterbury premiership-winning teams.
Several Junior Kiwis, including former Warriors Aaron Whittaker (now based on the Gold Coast) and Whetu Taewa (Central Otago) attended and played in a Past versus Present game alongside former representative players Glen Coughlan, Walter Wilson and Chris Neame.
"We had a pretty good side out there playing our current premier side," Whittaker said.
The honours were shared, "about four tries each".
Five survivors from Halswell's first team in 1960 were special guests at the jubilee.
Halswell's national recognition will be no surprise to Canterbury rugby league followers. The club has been innovative off the field, running fundraising luncheons for the past three years with former Kiwis Tawera Nikau and Ruben Wiki and former Australia coach Ricky Stuart as guest speakers.
The events have raised more than $40,000, which has been spent on clubroom maintenance and improvements, including 20 tables and chairs for the jubilee.
The club of the year award was also a fitting way to farewell master coach Phil Prescott, who stood down as premiers coach at the end of the 2010 season.
Prescott coached the Canterbury Bulls to two national titles and became a New Zealand Residents and New Zealand A head coach and Kiwis assistant coach.
He also played for Halswell as a junior, won club titles with the Hornets as a player and coach, and returned home to coach the club for the past two years. He has now retired and will be replaced by former Warriors player Shane Endacott.
However, Whittaker hopes Prescott will continue in a mentor role.