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Brad Meurant has always enjoyed a challenge. And Northcote having not won the senior title in 60 years represented a supreme challenge for him when he came across to the club in 1989.
Truth be known, Meurant had targeted an involvement with the North Harbour representative team that year, but when Peter Thorburn was reappointed rep coach for a fifth term, Meurant decided to seek a fresh challenge. He'd been with North Harbour B for two seasons by then and wanted to avoid being branded a B team coach. So the opportunity to coach Northcote was timely.
Ironically, the individual who convinced him Northcote was the club to get involved with- because it had the potential to succeed -finished up staying with Takapuna. That was Wayne Pivac, who'd learnt his trade with Northcote before transferring to Takapuna in 1986. 'It was Wayne who said 'Let's put a team together at Northcote,' recalls Meurant. 'But at the last minute, having sewn the seed, he decided to stay with Takapuna.'
Meurant had first become aware that Northcote was on the lookout for a coach through Craig Burgess and Tony Brown, members of his North Harbour B team. Then, when Pivac became so enthusiastic, Meurant agreed to accept the challenge. Having guided East Coast Bays to championship success in 1985 and 1986, Meurant knew what it took to build a winning combination. Luck was on his side, with Richard Turner, a rising star at No 8, having joined the club from Hawke's Bay, and giant lock David Mayhew having returned home after a stint in western Australia. Paul Terekia transferred from Massey and Steve Eskridge also joined the club. Both would go on to represent North Harbour. At Northcote, they stiffened a backline that already possessed great strike power in the threequarters through Richard Kapa and Paul Carlton.
'We finished up with a well-rounded side,' Meurant recalls, 'with no serious deficiencies in any area. The biggest problem was that they didn't know how to win when the pressure went on at the business end of the season. 'But we had a couple of lucky breaks. In the semifinals, while we were beating Takapuna (a side that included Graham Dowd, Paul Leonard, Blair Larsen and Paul Feeney), East Coast Bays and North Shore fought out a draw and had to play extra time.
'I'm sure that impacted on East Coast Bays in the final, especially as they had to front up against us four days later.' Because Thorbs needed his representative players the following weekend, the final was staged midweek. 'That suited me just fine. It didn't give our guys - most of whom were entirely unfamiliar with finals rugby- much time to worry about it.'
Northcote won that 1989 final against East Coast Bays by 16 points to 6, an enormous thrill for the club's officials and loyal followers. The following year, Meurant's men did it again, this time putting away Buck Shelford's North Shore team in the final. Meurant tried for the hat-trick in 1991 but his team was KO'd by Takapuna in the semifinals, he being guilty he believes, of remaining too loyal to some of his older statesmen. 'It's important, at whatever level you're coaching, to keep introducing fresh young blood,' he says. 'I didn't do that in 1991.'
That ended Meurant's association with Northcote, for in 1992 he was finally given the opportunity to coach North Harbour. Such was the success he achieved (most notably in 1994 when Harbour played out the NPC final against mighty Auckland) he was put in charge of the Waikato Chiefs in the first year of the Super 12. Meurant says he enjoyed his years at Northcote immensely and still finds the club appealing because of the number of long-serving players and officials who are still passionately involved.