Welling­ton’s Mr Rugby League

CAREY CLE­MENTS talks to rugby league afi­cionado and Whitby res­i­dent Bernie Wood about writ­ing books, trot­ting and the West Coast.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

It has been nearly 50 years since you left the West Coast. What does that area mean to you?

Her­itage and a love of rugby league from tough guys who had great skills. It’s the only province where the game is the ma­jor win­ter sport.

How did you get started in rugby league?

An aunt who was a Marist rugby league fa­natic en­cour­aged me to play for the club when I was nine.

What are your early mem­o­ries as a West Coast school­boys player?

I was picked in the West Coast school­boys team for the 1953 na­tional tour­na­ment in Auck­land. It was only the sec­ond time I had been out of Grey­mouth. I played on the fa­mous Car­law Park for the only time. The fol­low­ing year in Dunedin I was picked as a School­boy Kiwi, my high­est play­ing hon­our.

When did you get in­volved in rugby league ad­min­is­tra­tion?

I had been trea­surer of the Marist club in Grey­mouth be­fore I came up to Welling­ton through a job trans­fer with State In­surance. I had got so much en­joy­ment out of rugby league as a player that it seemed a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion to be elected on to the Welling­ton board in 1968. We had a very good chair­man in Ken English.

What was the stan­dard of rugby league like in Welling­ton in the 1960s and 1970s?

We had mas­sive strength in our clubs, par­tic­u­larly Up­per Hutt, Pe­tone, Rand­wick, East­ern Sub­urbs and Marist. Strangely, the strong club scene never really trans­ferred to the rep side.

How­ever, in the first na­tional club com­pe­ti­tion fi­nal, in 1982, Pe­tone and Rand­wick played what I have called the great­est game ever played in this coun­try. Both teams qual­i­fied af­ter beat­ing strong Auck­land sides, which meant the fi­nal was trans­ferred from Car­law Park to Welling­ton. Pe­tone got a try in the last minute and be­came the in­au­gu­ral hold­ers of the Wran­gler Cup.

You edited the be­tween 1977 and 2002. What got you started?

Bruce Mont­gomerie and later Bill O’Cal­laghan had put out New Zealand Rugby League an­nu­als from 1962. In 1977 I was report- ing league for the Sun­day Times and The Do­min­ion as well as cov­er­ing the game for 2ZB. I re­alised the an­nu­als had very poor records that couldn’t be re­lied on. So when it came to putting out the an­nual in 1977, I made sure that we got some ba­sic things right, such as putting out a cor­rect list of all the Ki­wis and the years they played for New Zealand. I was for­tu­nate to have along­side me John Cof­fey from the Christchurch Press, who, like me, was a league fa­natic and car­ing his­to­rian of the game.

What sort of is­sues did you have along the way putting to­gether that first an­nual? It took us six months to put it to­gether with as­sis­tance from Welling­ton coach Ossie Butt, a printer by trade. Over the years the an­nu­als got bet­ter and bet­ter. We also be­came more ef­fec­tive in get­ting our cor­re­spon­dents to meet their dead­lines, so we got the an­nu­als out about a month be­fore Christ­mas and they be­came great presents. Didn’t you miss one year? Yes. In 1981 I was putting to­gether an­other book, Fly­ing Sulkies, a his­tory of the In­ter Do­min­ion trot­ting, an­other love of mine.

What were some of the great horses you saw?

If I had to sin­gle out some, Johnny Ray, Johnny Globe and High­land Fling were spe­cial dur­ing a fab­u­lous era of trot­ting. No Cardi­gan Bay? No, he be­came really spe­cial once he left our shores for the United States.

What are your mem­o­ries from the time you were elected on to the New Zealand Rugby League board, in 1992?

It was good to be part of league at the time. The Aus­tralian com­pe­ti­tion was be­com­ing very big here. I was part of a coup that got rid of New Zealand Rugby League pres­i­dent Ge­orge Rainey. Ge­orge had been in the game for many years and although his heart was in it, he was very dic­ta­to­rial. He was also not in favour of hav­ing a New Zealand-based team in the Win­field Cup. I stood as deputy chair­man and re­placed an­other long-stand­ing of­fi­cial, Allen Gore.

How badly did the Su­per League war in 1997-98 dam­age rugby league?

It nearly killed off the game en­tirely. For­tu­nately, it sur­vived and is now bet­ter than ever. How­ever, since the An­der­son Report a few years ago clubs and dis­tricts no longer have any say at na­tional level. Ap­point­ments are made by out­side or­gan­i­sa­tions and the rul­ing na­tional body is made by a group of un­knowns who know lit­tle about the game, but a lot about busi­ness.

You’ve writ­ten the cen­te­nary his­to­ries of the Ki­wis, and of Auck­land, Welling­ton and New Zealand Maori rugby league and the Pe­tone Rugby League Club. Which has given you the great­est sat­is­fac­tion?

The Ki­wis his­tory with John Cof­fey was a mas­sive project, more than five years in the prepa­ra­tion. Along the way it was good to fi­nally set the record straight on a num­ber of things. For in­stance, we had to de­stroy some myths within some fam­i­lies who be­lieved a fam­ily mem­ber had rep­re­sented New Zealand.

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