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PLAYING FOR YOUR MATES

4 November 2021
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Thames Valley, looking tight as a group, celebrate after beating West Coast last month in Greymouth.

Steve Hale discovers what has changed for the better with Thames Valley’s Swamp Foxes (pages 74-76).

Since 2018, the Swamp Foxes have undergone a renaissance. 

After winning NPC third division titles in 1988, 1990 and 1995, it took a further 23 years before the Thames Valley handle was etched onto any silverware. Winning the Meads Cup in 2018 was treated initially as a fairytale, an aberration, a one-off.  

The Swamp Foxes backed up 12 months later by topping the Heartland Championship and earning a home semifinal. While deciding not to participate last season seemed inexplicable, at the time of writing the Swamp Foxes were unbeaten in 2021. So how have the perennial strugglers become Heartland Championship titans?

I remember former Auckland and Southland NPC wing Watisoni Lotawa, who also played three seasons for North Otago, telling me how playing Thames Valley in Paeroa was regarded as an easy weekend away for the Old Golds, a guaranteed five points in the kitty.  

The province has endured forgettable seasons, a revolving door of coaches and CEOs, loan players of varying quality, even a few who forgot to turn up for home games. Too many players were unfit, depth was an ongoing issue and off-field exploits surpassed performance.   

The contrast between then and now could not be greater. The current squad are young, lean, energetic, happy and super-fit.

Continue this story in our November issue.

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