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The rise, fall and resurrection of West Coast Rugby League: How a dedicated community is keeping the game alive

Just a few decades back it seemed unthinkable - the West Coast without a rugby league competition.

But in it's 104th season, that's what happened.

Despite its superb rugby league history and long list of Kiwis from the area, the West Coast has struggled in recent times to keep its proud and passionate spirit alive.

The region provided half of the national team in 1947. Icons of old such as Ken Mountford, Arthur Gillman, Charlie McBride, Bob Ainslie, Jack Newton and Jack Forest all hail from the Coast.

The West Coast was even responsible for one of the biggest New Zealand names to never play for the Kiwis – Cecil Mountford.

Peter Kerridge, who is a former president, secretary and treasurer of WCRL, said the work force back then helped the Coast’s game flourish.

"You had a big work force of coal miners concentrated in several areas. Fit, tough men, the game suited them," he told TVNZ1’s Seven Sharp.

"It became part of our heritage."

But now, in it's 104th season, West Coast Rugby League can’t even put together a competition.

The decline is no surprise to Kerridge though.

"I'm surprised that people are surprised because it's quite clear.

"The industrial base of the Coast has been hollowed out. The mines have closed, hundreds of jobs are gone.

"The butcher the baker, the candlestick maker lived off those mine jobs as well - it's inevitable that it had to impact on it."

But the region won’t let the game die so their solution was the Greymouth Greyhounds - a new "combined club" playing in a new competition with teams from Nelson and Marlborough.

Well that was the plan, coach and current WCRL President Brad Tacon said.

"Unfortunately, the team from Blenheim pulled the pin not long before the competition started.

"Since then, we were meant to go and play Stoke but unfortunately they've pulled the pin now too. So we're stuck with two."

But Tacon said Coasters don't just give up when it gets a bit hard.

"We'd go to the other end of New Zealand to play football."

West Coast’s passion isn’t just for the present but the future too with a new group of future Kiwis picking up the game in a blossoming junior scene.

Kerridge said the next Mountford could be among any of them.

"That's why the enthusiasts remain enthusiastic.

"There's some really talented kids that us older group are desperately keen to keep them in football and find them an outlet because we think they can go all the way.

"We'll do it one way or another."

So Wingham Park, home of West Coast footy, is open to all comers and the Greyhounds are just as happy to host – or tour.

"We're open to travel anywhere," Tacon said.

"We just want football, that's all."

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    After 104 seasons, the competition was briefly no-more. Source: Seven Sharp


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