Cornelius tastes immediate NPC success

Gray Cornelius in pre-match mode. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tasman rugby’s policy of building coaching strength from within has paid off handsomely this season.

Three members of the successful four-man Mako coaching team learned their trade in the top of the south.

Andrew Goodman, co-head coach alongside Clarke Dermody, was a former Mako captain, then assistant coach under Leon MacDonald from 2016-18.

Shane Christie, another former Mako skipper, followed a similar path while the newest member of the coaching group, Gray Cornelius, stepped up to Mitre 10 Cup level this season after many seasons as First XV coach at Marlborough Boys’ College.

Cornelius, a former Marlborough Red Devils representative, has relished his first taste of coaching at provincial level and laughed off suggestions he may have been something of lucky charm for the team who finally broke their premiership final duck with a 31-14 win over Wellington on Saturday evening.

“Right place, right time,” suggested Cornelius with a chuckle. “I’ve really enjoyed [the coaching] it’s been awesome but I think I may have jumped on the back of a lot of work that’s gone before me, over many years.

“We’ve had some pretty influential people in this union that have done a hell of a lot and I guess [the premiership title] is the culmination of their hard work.”

Cornelius felt sure the Mako’s unbeaten season would provide a huge boost for rugby in the top of the south.

“Absolutely … and we would be foolish if we didn’t leverage off it, to promote our province as a good place to come and play an exciting brand of rugby. That’s probably our goal leading into next year.”

The fact that the people of both Marlborough and Nelson turned out in large numbers for the Mako’s two play-off games was not lost on Cornelius who suggested that may not have happened if the matches were played in the bigger centres.

“I don’t want to sound presumptuous but if this final was played in Wellington I’m not sure you would get the same parochialism … it’s a smaller community here and the support has been awesome.

“Last week was excellent in Blenheim, a big crowd there and another large crowd here for the final – the town’s been humming, there’s kind of an intimate feel.”

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