As seen on https://www.nzherald.co.nz/
A rugby league boss is going back to basics to create an inclusive community culture and does not want the club to be held to ransom by onfield results or the bar turnover.
In an era where sports clubs throughout Aotearoa are struggling with playing numbers and sponsorship dollars, the Te Atatu Roosters have drawn a line in the sand and won’t accept funding from pokies or booze.
As part of the Auckland Rugby League (ARL) vision, the Thriving Club Model has been designed to encourage diversity of income and to leverage funding, grants and sponsorships
Roosters chairman Craig Godfrey (Ngati Porou/Hauraki-Mataora) is stripping back sport’s traditional “play hard, stay hard, drink hard” culture to implement a community-based model. He wants the West Auckland club to be a safe focal point for all the community and not continue to carry the stigma of a hangout for hard-drinking former players and noisy fans.
Since taking the reins of the 1988 National Rugby League champion club in 2021, Godfrey mde a free play group, which already has 60 tamariki from the Te Atatu area registered on its books a priority. The club also runs rangatahi (youth) mentoring sessions and has started Mau Rakau – traditional Māori martial arts – classes.
They run holiday programmes for the Auckland Rugby League and tag and touch competitions. They are also establishing a netball partnership.
“I can only be as successful as the team of people I have around me,” Godfrey said.
Rugby league has been a big part of Godfrey’s life. He retired from playing with Point Chevalier in 2016, and went straight into coaching junior grades at Te Atatu, then on to the committee.
When Covid landed in 2020, it was a light bulb moment for the 44-year-old had an opportunity to re-evaluate his personal priorities.
Te Atatu is a suburb split in two. The north – now known as Te Atatu Peninsula and south. The suburb is separated by the Northwestern Motorway and a rapidly growing population with a base of about 32,000. As one of many state home suburbs, many families are third and fourth generation Māori or Pacific.
Godfrey is a third-generation showground/carnival worker. His whānau has mobile food and hot dog caravans that go to sporting and outdoor events.
In 2020, Godfrey was the first appointed New Zealand Rugby League wellbeing champion. The governing body knew the importance of addressing mental health issues among our youth, with the biggest proportion being Māori Pacific Islanders.
That mahi is still being carried out by former Warrior and Kiwi league greats Ali Lauiti’iti and Jerry Seuseu.
The tipping point for Godfrey to reach out to young people happened much closer to home.
“We had a young man at Te Atatu take his life and that is not acceptable to even lose one young person to suicide,” Godfrey said.
He attended a governance workshop through Sport NZ, to learn what it took to run a club and what that success looked like.
“When I took over, I realised there was a lot to do and the club needed a change of culture,” Godfrey said.
“The club wanted to be successful but no one acted professionally. Junior club members and their whānau didn’t want to come back to the club. There was a massive disconnect.
“But through my commercial experience, I knew that if you plan things well, there’s a good chance of good outcomes.”
In the second lockdown, Godfrey went through all the club paperwork including the constitution and financial documents to truly assess where Te Atatu Rugby League Club was at.
“We had to get into a position where we weren’t reliant on someone’s patronage at the bar and the behavioural issues that came with it.
“That’s when they have you over a barrel. What we had to do was align ourselves with good people.”
That alignment started with sponsorship from West Auckland Urban Māori Te Whānau o Waipareira.
“We won’t take any support from alcohol or gambling and when we announced we were doing that, it was amazing the support that came from other areas,” Godfrey said.
He has also implemented community initiatives. During lockdown, members and players packed thousands of RAT test kits for West Auckland whānau.
To be more visible to the Te Atatu community, during the preseason the premier side would go for runs around the suburb, and had to carry a tackle bag on their shoulders.
“The only reprieve they could get while they were running through the main road was if they saw a local, they would stop and introduce themselves,” Godfrey said.
His wife Hanna, who is also the club treasurer – “one of a number of roles I have been given by Craig” – is fully supportive. Before taking over the club role, Godfrey had a long chat with Hanna.
“I was initially hesitant and had discussion about what he wanted to do and the pros and cons and what our family would look like,” Hanna said.
“But I see the way he thrives and see the way he has grown. He is so passionate about rugby league and his connection.”
Hanna said they have always been active and connected in their communities.
“We are taking people on the change journey of the culture of this club and I’m so proud of what my husband is doing for his community, especially the youth, who he is so passionate about,” she said.
The Roosters are not the only Auckland Rugby League club undergoing post pandemic change.
Newly appointed ARL CEO Rebecca Russell said females were getting involved in rugby league in Auckland in record numbers.
With almost 10,000 players registered this year, the game has seen a 750 per cent increase in women participation, and 81 per cent of all league managers are female.
Russell also paid tribute to the Te Atatu Roosters under Godfrey’s leadership.
“In an effort to make rugby league in Auckland a better place for our communities, we have seen some clubs opening onsite laundromats and commercial kitchens to provide wholesome meals and partnerships with health providers to improve access to healthcare.
“Led by chairman Craig Godfrey, the Te Atatu Roosters are demonstrating the impact that can be made for their community through positive initiatives – both on and off the field.”