The East Coasters celebrate a premier rugby win over Renwick last season. Despite their catchment area being disrupted by the November 14 earthquake, they will be back in harness this year.
There will be an East Coast team in Marlborough premier rugby ranks in 2017.
The Coasters, a combination of players from both Awatere and Kaikoura clubs, completed their first stint in top-level club rugby last year, showing plenty of promise and making bold plans for a go-ahead season in 2017.
Those plans were thrown into disarray on November 14 when the quickest route between the two clubs, State Highway One, was widely damaged by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.
With the main road being closed for the forseeable future, doubts immediately arose over the future of the East Coast concept. However, Awatere Rugby Club spokesman Andrew Lawson, a member of the initial East Coast steering committee, said, “it is 100 percent all happening this year, there is no question about that”.
“There are some varying reports on when the road will be open … but it is likely to be after the season starts, so Kaikoura will have to decide what they are going to do.
“It is a shame. We were hoping to get five or six Kaikoura players but we will have a side regardless, and it will still be called East Coast.
“We won’t be just dropping [the East Coast concept] for a year and running as Awatere. It will just be for this year, next year we will be back to normal,” he added.
Members of the Awatere rugby community have offered work and accommodation for any Kaikoura players who were able to move north for the rugby season and Lawson said those offers still stood.
He said Awatere were also hopeful of fielding a division two side this season. The East Coast side will again be coached by Steve Crockett with Simon Muir as manager.
Kaikoura Rugby Club spokesman Dean Hamilton, another member of the steering committee, has joined Lawson and Tasman Rugby Union chief executive Tony Lewis in talks regarding their immediate future. The Cray Coasters plan to field a division two team and junior teams in 2017.
An option for Kaikoura is to play in the North Canterbury competition for the season, a scenario their southern neighbours are pleased to accommodate, but Hamilton said Tasman did not want them to head south if we didn’t have to.
He said that given uncertainty over the length of the road closure, his club had not come to any solid conclusions yet.
“We can’t just sit and wait and hope that the road will open. We will have a committee meeting soon and make those decisions, regarding our senior team and the JAB [Junior Advisory Board] teams. It is just about getting on and trying to guarantee we have some rugby.
“Obviously [Tasman] were concerned about the East Coast scenario, but [Awatere] are boxing on as per normal, although they will certainly miss the Kaikoura players that would have been involved.”
Tasman Rugby Union chief executive Tony Lewis said it was “imperative” that the East Coast concept survived despite the hurdles in its path this year.
“There were lots of positives over what happened last year [with East Coast], we have just to make sure we keep that focus on everything.”
He said he had urged the Kaikoura club not to rush into a decision, suggesting there were lots of options to mull over, including the possibility of Kaikoura playing round one in North Canterbury then rejoining the Marlborough competition at a later stage when the road opens.
“Everyone wants to see East Coast carry on. We will do everything we can to make sure it happens,” added Lewis.
“We don’t want something to fall down that has worked well.”