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Porirua Vikings rugby league's true champions

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 04/11/2011
Porirua Vikings
ANDREW GORRIE/FAIRFAX NZ
GRASSROOTS GUARDIANS: Antz Akavi, centre, and Porirua Vikings Rugby League Club members, from left, Joanne Rameka, Bernie Wood, Trinity-Storm Starkey-Akavi, 3, Nicki Starkey and Pania Houkamau-Ngaheu, celebrate their win becoming New Zealand's best grassroots club at the NZ Rugby League Awards.

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When Antz Akavi started playing league with the Porirua Vikings it was all about smashing guys on the field and getting drunk afterwards.

Nearly three decades later Mr Akavi, father of nine and lifetime member, is teaching young players to play clean both on and off the field.

"We were just a bash-and-crash club, that's it. Then we started changing our mentality about 1994."

Transforming the deeply ingrained culture was a long and arduous process, which dozens of members fought against, but this week the club's unrelenting drive for change has been recognised.

It was named the best grassroots club in New Zealand at the NZ Rugby League awards in Auckland, a title 168 clubs competed for.

"We're not doing this for the sake of it. It's actually making a difference in our community," Mr Akavi said.

Through rugby league, life skills such as discipline, pride, and time management are taught from a young age.

"By teaching our kids early, we'll make our community a better place. We know for a fact that if we had not been here for the children that we've involved ourselves with, there would be a lot more crime in our little city because the kids ain't got nothing to do here."

The club has 903 members, including 83 volunteers who coach, referee, support from the sidelines and run courses such as the No Violence programme – which teaches children and adults to communicate with words rather than fists.

None of the players appeared before the courts this year – a first in the club's 33-year history.

In its role as a drive-safe ambassador for the Porirua City Council, the club helps players get a driver's licence in exchange for overseeing school road patrols.

Board chairwoman Pania Houkamau-Ngaheu said she had stopped a family from driving off after a game with three young children in the boot and adults in the back seat. After reprimanding the parents, the club helped the father get his restricted licence, source car seats and helped both parents find work.

President Bernie Wood said the grassroots award reflected the transformation of the club, which was now the biggest in the region.

"We're the most successful club on the field in the whole of Wellington. We lost this year's grand final by a field goal but we had won three in a row before that."

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- The Dominion Post

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