Celebrating our sporting excellence

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Leicester Rutledge won the Sport Southland Services to Sport award at the Southland Sports Awards.

SEVERAL of Southland’s sporting heroes were honoured at the regional sports awards this week.

The awards, which are normally celebrated at a function, were changed this year to a digital format, with 13 awards to be handed out over four nights.

On Monday night, it was the awards of three generations as Southland rugby great Leicester Rutledge, Invercargill physiotherapist Karl McDonald and world junior champion rower Shakira Mirfin were honoured.

The Creation Signs Official of the Year category was expanded in 2020 to include team personnel, with this year’s award going to Japan rugby team medic Karl McDonald.

As the lead physiotherapist and head of medical, McDonald had a front row seat as the home team became the darling of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, finishing pool play unbeaten and qualifying for the quarter-finals for the first time.

“I still pinch myself about (the Rugby World Cup), it was amazing to be there, the home country, the home crowd, the way the fans in Japan got behind the team was just incredible.”

Outstanding rower Shakira Mirfin is the 2020 recipient of the Mike Piper Trophy for commitment, integrity and excellence.

Mirfin, who is also a finalist in the Vodafone Junior Sportsperson of the Year award which will be announced tonight, was recognised for the contribution she has made as part of the leadership year of the Academy Southland programme.

Academy Southland manager Jason McKenzie said she displayed all key attributes Mike Piper was about and integrity.

“Talking to her coach Jack Allan, she’s a fantastic mentor for other athletes, with a work ethic second to none and everything she does, she does with quality.”

Each year up to four Sport Southland Services to Sport awards are presented to leaders who have made a major impact in their chosen sport, with former All Black Leicester Rutledge the first of this year’s recipients.

Rutledge was Wrights Bush’s first All Black, going on to play 31 matches, including 13 tests on the side of the scrum for the All Blacks.

He played 113 games for Southland, later coaching and managing the Southland team, including being manager during the 2009 Ranfurly Shield win and 2010 shield tenure.

“I was extremely lucky to play with some very good players and play in a really good side and that certainly helps if you’ve got aspirations of going higher. The success with the Shield era as a manager, it’s been a wonderful period,” Rutledge said.

Te Anau policeman Dwight Grieve was awarded the NZME Masters Achievement of the Year award — a year on from representing New Zealand as an open runner at the world mountain running championships.

An age group champion and sixth overall at the national half-marathon championships, Grieve was also sixth overall and the first masters runner for the second year in a row at the Kepler Challenge.

Grieve only took up running seriously at 30 after deciding to make several life changes and lose some weight.

He acknowledged the support of the Te Anau community, his coach Shaun Cantwell and especially his family.

BDO Administrator of the Year Phil Hartley is a board member, chairman of the Track and Field committee and can usually be found helping out at Surrey Park during the athletics season.

However, it’s as project manager of the Surrey Park track resurfacing that he’s had the most impact in recent times.

‘‘Its been a bit of a journey. (We had) a lot of support from the funders which made it a lot easier and we got there in the end,’’ Hartley said.

Former Southland Football chairman Jeff Walker was awarded for Sport Southland Services to Sport.

Walker became involved in football administration in 1998, taking the chair of the Southland Football Association men’s committee the following year.

What followed was a tremendous period of change in the governance of the sport with the creation of the federation system.

Under Walker’s leadership, a restructure created more efficiencies across the game and led to the creation of Southland Football, which also provided the framework for a number of high-profile games to be staged in Invercargill, including a pre-under 17 World Cup game
between New Zealand and Paraguay.

Along with Kenny Cresswell, Walker was instrumental in the creation of the all-weather training and playing facility at Turnbull Thomson Park.

The third night of the awards included an emotional tribute to long-standing Southland tennis coach Peter White.

White was diagnosed with motor neurone disease earlier this year and died last weekend.

The 2020 Sport Southland Services to Sport recipient will be remembered as one of Southland tennis’ great contributors.

As Tennis Southland’s resident coach for 23 years, White served up tennis in schools across the province, as well as selecting and coaching junior and senior teams at representative level.

Passionate about creating tennis opportunities for anyone wanting to pick up a racquet, White’s philosophy was developed during his time playing professionally and honed under the tutelage of a master coach in Sydney.

A strong foundation and an emphasis on having fun drove his approach to developing players.

He guided players including Taylor Allan, Damien McKenzie, Richard Mulvey and Jessie Watson to national success, along with discovering and promoting Riki and Ben McLachlan, who would go on to college scholarships at Berkley University.

Another highlight from his career was being a driving force in Southland hosting three Davis Cup ties between 2000 and 2004. Wife Melissa Chilton said White was tremendously honoured to receive a Services to Sport award.

The Southland Kia Team of the Year went to the Cycling Southland elite men’s team sprint combination of Nick Kergozou, Tom Sexton and Conor Shearing.

Despite being better known as endurance riders, this world class line-up defied a heavy programme to take out the elite men’s team sprint title at this year’s national championships.

The Ricoh Southland Coach of the Year was awarded to Chris Knight, who was recognised for his feats both home and abroad in athletics.

Selected as both coach and manager of the New Zealand team for the Pacific Games in Samoa, Knight’s talents as both a jumps and throwing technician continued to be recognised at the national level.

‘‘It’s always a great time to be involved, working with that 12 to 19 age group,’’ Knight said.

Knight said Sam Colyer’s silver medal at the Oceania Championships, and the outstanding progression of Quinn Hartley were highlights during the past year.

‘‘There’s also many others that I’m working with who have done well at national championships, winning medals and it was a good effort all round really.’’

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