POVERTY Bay Heartland team captain James Grogan and Gisborne Boys’ High first 15 play-maker Austin Brown are to play for Taranaki’s Spotswood United Club next season.Flanker Grogan will join his former GBHS first 15 teammates Jared Proffit and Micaiah Torrance-Reid at the club.
However, he won’t be linking up with another old boy from his GBHS first 15 days — Toa Halafihi — who has headed to French Top 14 side Lyon after being named Taranaki’s player of the year but not getting a Super Rugby contract.
Prop Proffit was a member of the Taranaki squad while lock Torrance-Reid was a key player in the Taranaki development team and played for a Taranaki Invitational side against South Korea.
On leaving school, first five-eighth Brown signed with the Taranaki rugby academy — something now-21-year-old openside flanker Grogan decided against when he finished school.
“Initially I was keen but thought it was better to get a trade behind me, something to fall back on if the rugby didn’t work out or for when I finished playing,” said Grogan, who has one year left of his plumbing apprenticeship.
“Steve Wolter gave me the chance to serve my time as a plumber and I owe him a lot. He’s been a great boss, allowing me time to play and always encouraging me.
“He supports my decision to try to make it at ITM Cup level, provided I finish my apprenticeship, which I intend doing.
“Spotswood have fixed me up with a job. I’ll miss the boys at work, all my whanau who are super supportive and the Bay boys, especially our trainer Tuts (Tuterangi Apatu-Nepe).
“I’m a Gizzy boy at heart, always will be, but I feel this is the right time to have a crack at playing at a higher level.
“I’ve played for the ’Naki sevens team and enjoyed it. Now I want to see if I can make the ITM side.
“But first I have to earn my place at Spotswood. That’s the main focus . . . control what I can control and hopefully the rest will follow.”
Poverty Bay coaches Mana Otai and Dwayne Russell said Grogan was a huge loss.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t make it over there, . . . no, seriously, we wish James all the best,” Otai said.
“He’s been great value to us this year and will always be welcomed back here.”
Russell said he had no doubt Grogan had the ability and dedication to make it at ITM Cup level.
“He’s been well coached at Boys’ High and by others through the age group teams. He’s also been a member of many Hurricanes camps and played for the New Zealand Heartland under-19 team at the Jock Hobbs memorial tournament.
“James is a player who leads from the front. He’s only 21 but punches way above his age as a captain, and has earned the respect of all the players.”
“He played a huge role in developing our culture on and off the field.”
Grogan said he hoped the team culture, players wanting to play for the Bay and especially the haka, which the team now perform before games, continues.
“We set our goals high at the start of the season to make the top four but fell well short (knocked out in the Lochore Cup (fifth to eighth placings) semifinals, which was disappointing,” said Grogan.
“I’ll be keeping an eye on the Bay’s results next year and hope the boys can build on this year.
“I enjoyed leading the side. That is something I will always be proud off. ”
Although the highly talented Brown did not make the Heartland squad, Russell said he probably would have been included had it not been for an injury-plagued season with Boys’ High.
“We were looking at Austin as a wing/fullback who could cover first five,” Russell said.
“Unfortunately, a bad knee injury and then hamstring problems ruled him out of contention.”