Harbour Rugby Ready to Shine Under Coach Steve Jackson

North Harbour coach Steve Jackson with the Rugby Cup during the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup Launch at Eden Rugby Club on August 9, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/All Blacks Collection/Getty Images)

North Harbour, or Harbour as they go by today, have still yet 0to reach the heights once envisioned. After a 30 year evolution, for fans it has seemed like the mountain to the Premier level is always just a little ‘too high’.

Under many, many great leaders, and many high-quality coaches, the results vary….as with the match today demonstrated. Matched up against Bay of Plenty, the teams are both in the Championship tier of the Mitre 10 Cup: a step down from the top-tier, the players are still highly skilled, as is the coaching staffs but they are not yet on par with Auckland, Canterbury.

Steve Jackson is the current head coach. The former player is in his second term, he has brought about a further development that see’s Harbour ready to shine–provided today’s game went their way.

Harbour coach
Steve Jackson celebrates after North Harbour defeated Auckland 34-32 on Saturday 4th September 2004. (Sandra Teddy/Getty Images)

While Jackson’s playing time was limited to just two seasons, many had looked forward to a long tenure in charge of this Provincial team. With Jackson being signed as the assistant to Tana Umaga, Jackson could now build the skills-base to set his sights a little higher than matching Bay of Plenty. And why not?

From Player/Coach to Provincial Head Coach

Last Word On Rugby interviewed Jackson early in the week, and he was really enjoying his time as coach. Beside his assistant Daniel Halangahu, the pair bring youth, trust and rugby knowledge–not far removed from the game themselves. And the results have been kind, with three home wins (before this afternoon). Jackson was still grounded in his summation of where they stand;

“We are where we are. Guy’s didn’t start as well as we wanted but find ourselves in a good position now.”

Originally from Waitakere, the ex-Massey club player and coach is enjoying his time. He learned on-the-job, through experience and picking up skills from coaches–like former Kiwi’s league coach Graham Lowe. That open minded approach see’s him use the strengths of his players to the betterment of the team.

Player depth improving with Super Rugby experience

LWOR asked Jackson to speak about several key players, especially those which he respected and who had, or might soon join him at the Blues. They all bring experience, and some are also Massey club players. That strong Harbour club is well represented on QBE Stadium 2016.

MATT DUFFIE – “His just getting better and better all the time. So good for us, he brings leadership, he is a very vocal player and from the Blues, he has carried that form into our environment”

CHRIS VUI – “Outstanding [a common adjective]. Outstanding all season and too, getting better and better. He is just 23 but has been chosen to lead the side, in the absence of James Parsons,” and Vui has performed admirably. Scoring two tries in two winning games. A great choice by Harbour.

TEVITA LI – “Great character. Great guy too, always brings something to training. A player you know will show up prepared to ‘bring it’ on any given day.”

Like Duffie and Parsons, Jackson will team with them all for the 2017 Blues Super Rugby season.

WORLD CLUB TEN’S

Lastly, I asked Jackson about his highest accolade, the World Club Tens in 2014. He took the Blues franchise selection across to claim a surprise final victory. “Winning anything is great, and to take a group of guys over there to beat the Brumbies [winning 10-5 over the Canberra side] was outstanding.” A descriptive word Jackson is fond of, as he was of Piri Weepu. Working with him, Brendon O’Connor and current players Melanie Nanai, Joe Edwards and Ofa Tu’ungafasi [now an All Black]

Experiencing the rewarding feeling Weepu and co gained from that is a sense of the direction that Steve Jackson hopes to take Harbour toward.

Piri Weepu
Players from The Blues celebrate after defeating The Brumbies during the World Club 10s final at the Singapore Sports Hub on June 22, 2014 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

NORTH HARBOUR 44  BAY OF PLENTY 34

QBE Stadium, Albany

These two Championship sides were sitting within two points of each other in the competition standings, Harbour holding a game in hand. Still to play the dreaded ‘double-header round’ but the North Shore-based side held a slight advantage.

As the record stands – Played: 28 times from 1985-2015. Bay of Plenty wins: 14/North Harbour wins: 14 – very even in reality, although ‘the Bay’ have the stronger provincial rugby heritage.

Under grey skies, this was a key game for each. Skills execution would play a big part. Even though both sides had similarly awful weather last weekend, it is their attitude that means both are able to spread the ball in this wet weather, instead of opting to kick. Gladly, teams let the ball ‘do the talking’. Backs working just as hard as forwards to maintain control, it aided the Bay firstly.

While they converted one penalty from two attempts, on the third time Dan Hollingshead chose to kick for a lineout. It was the right option, when Teddy Stannaway scored close to the line. 6-10 after 25 minutes.

A few heavy spells of rain did not damper the intent; from both sides. While several penalties peppered the early stages, chances were now taken in hand. Matt Duffie did not rely on his up-and-under bombs so much, preferring to rely on a long kick and good chase today. Defense was critical; as usual, so picking up a sloppy dropped ball on their own line, Harbour fans bellowed out “RUN IT!” And the young men chanced their arm.

Good hands promote positive Rugby

Tearing down the blindside, Michael Little and Duffie did an excellent job in promoting good territory. The backs set-up a ruck, Smylie getting there in good time to allow Glen Preston to fire a bullet-pass out wide (similar to Dane Coles NZLvRSA effort) that gave Matt Vaega the space to share the ball to Tevita Li. Five metres out, nobody could stop the big Blues left winger.

Chris Vui
Chris Vui of North Harbour fends against Jordan Taufua of Counties Manukau during the round one Mitre 10 Cup (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

After such a great try, they needed to capture that momentum. Vuitton was calling on his men to ‘hit it’ but a scrum penalty miss brought a close to the first half at 20-10–but the energy was high

Whatever each coach demanded during the break, their men proceeded to act on. Bryn Gatland provided Harbour with ideal territory, and after retrieving their own lineout, they used it perfectly. Pushing down the middle, a nice ball out left saw Li collect try number two.

Unconverted, the celebration was cut-short, though when the Bay worked the ball out left. Good passing allowed winger Monty Ioane to reply instantly. Some good options were taken by each side now, the decision making began to enter the fore. Whether to pass, kick or take the tackle. Soon the former presented opportunities–a high kick landed ideally for Matt McGahan and he offloaded for Vaega to score. That was the fourth try, so a valuable result already but there was still 30 minutes to play.

More options used in second half

The kick option became a weapon. The opposition were in two minds now, as Harbour would often use the ball before a kick decision made. Using a grubber one time, prop Nick Mayhew was fortunate to grab a ‘meat pie’ as the ball favoured Harbour, 37-17.

Weight of possession told in the game too, with a Bay rolling maul driving Henry Stowers over the line. That gave them a chance but only if the territorial advantage was sustained…it was not. Bryn Hall was brought in, and he showed an adapt touch to kick long. A brilliant bounce ended up in Duffie’s arms and he scored the home sides sixth try.

Back to 44-22, with only ten minutes to play, the Bay were up against the wall. Still determined, they did not accept defeat easily. They used sharp kicks, good passing and kept the ball alive. Harbour needed to hold possession. On two occasions, they failed to deny the opposition, and twice it cost them tries. Was this the Bay of Plentys ‘get out of jail’ occasion?

Harbour collect bonus point win, the Bay never give up

If anything, this game just got away from Bay of Plenty. Not intentionally either, it went right down to 44-34 and you know every ounce was given to recover any chance by the visitors. You might say the bounce of the ball went Harbour’s way, and injury told. Even the time-keeping could have allowed for one more play–so close to pushing for a bonus point at least.

But head coach Steve Jackson was pleased enough by what he has built in 2016. Determining their own destiny through good wins like this, it carries on a fine effort mid-season.

That win was needed too, as they face Canterbury next Friday night. A tough assignment, the safety of these five points keeps them in the top four bracket of the Championship.

As Jackson told LWOR “satisfaction for ourselves is pretty important. If we do well, go forward, then we can look each other in the eye.”

The attitude of players will help, with heads held high and shoulders out, all the squad and coaching staff will be collectively be overjoyed.

The way the Northern side are playing, they will certainly travel down South full of self confidence and prepared to shine again on Friday night.

“Main photo credit”

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