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Do you remember

Back in 1978, a challenge was thrown down by club captain Norm McLeod: 'If you think it's so easy, go find the players for a fifth grade team, and I'll get the coach .'

The challenge was accepted. Clarky rang around the schools - Birkdale, Northcote, Rosmini, Westlake, Takapuna and Glenfield - requesting phone numbers of the first and second XV players who had left school.

Thus was assembled at the Stafford Park club rooms, for manager Sel Whittingham and coach Don Clark to assess , an unlikely assortment of individuals, although there was a scarcity of props and wings.

The team started slowly, seriously slowly, losing five of its first six games. The players felt the wrath of the manager who walked on more than one occasion, and the coach who spent hours painstakingly instilling the basics. Gradually the team turned the corner and suffered only one further loss. They developed into an excellent unit, with the potential to win a championship. Off the field, relationships were forged that have developed into lifelong friendships.

Peter Campbell of Campbell Motors in Wairau Road came on board with a great sponsorship. The players were kitted out in tracksuits and each player of the day received a pewter mug. It was one of New Zealand's first full-team sponsorships. Peter was so enthused with everything, he extended his sponsorship to three years.

In 1979 the team moved up to the under-20 grade. What a great year. They carried on where they'd left off, winning 15 of their 18 games, with one draw, to claim the championship. They scored 387 points, including 66 tries (51 of which came from the wingers Peter Ellwood and John Barnfield and fullback Ian MacFarlane.

The championship win was significant in that it happened in the club's 50th jubilee year.

In 1980 the club reluctantly allowed the team to participate in the third grade (under-21) championship. The players were so young, it was felt they should stay in the under-20 grade, but they had already won that title! The side remained in contention until the last few games. There were no play-offs in those days, just a round-robin process. Northcote came unstuck against Manukau which went through unbeaten. In the final round of matches (delayed two weeks because of foul weather), Manukau played Eden and, alongside them at Avondale, Northcote took on Grammar.

Victories to Manukau and Grammar would have seen them finish equal. Well, Manukau won well enough, but Grammar encountered huge problems with the boys from across the bridge.

ARU president Ron Don, in his wisdom, had allowed the programme for the upcoming Ranfurly Shield match to go to the printer with Manukau and Grammar confirmed as the curtain raiser.

Poor Grammar - coached by ex All Black halfback Bruce Gemmell struggled throughout. In the howling wind, Northcote led 6-nil, then 6-4 early in the second half; victory was clinched when Vince Dempster scored by following up a Scotty Rinkin up-and-under.

Ron Don, gracious in defeat, had to have the programmes unstapled and a new centre page inserted.

Seventeen players, plus the coach, were involved for the full three years. Of the 24 players in the championship team of '79, 24 were back for the third grade year. The 30 players who featured over the three seasons were: Mark Alison, John Barnfield, Steve Berghan, Neil Bower, Phil Cashmore, Phil Cooper, Vince Dempster, Peter Ellwood, Duncan Enoka, Robbie Enoka, Dave Fegan, Marty Freeman, Murray Holt, Graham Ingles, Evan Jones, Andrew Kerslake, Graeme Lee, Dave Madden, Ian MacFarlane, Fred Ogle, Mark Paton, Steven Reece, Scott Rinkin, Chris Rodgers, Alan Sillick, Peter Simmins, Rodney Smith, Mick Sweetman, John Watson, Wayne Whittingham. Managers: Dave Barr, Sel Whittingham. Coach: Don Clark.

Several players subsequently tried out for the seniors. Some made it - Neil Bower, Mick Sweetman, Phil Cooper, Peter Ellwood, Murray Holt, Duncan Enoka and Mark Paton.

Twenty-five years on, most of the guys are still as tight as they were in 1978. Graeme Lee, Phil Cooper, Graeme Ingles, Alan Sillick, Duncan Enoka, Dave Madden and Scott Rinkin are coaching (Scotty is also Northcote's secretary manager) and two others - Graeme Lee and Andrew Kerslake - through their company, Home Tune, are major club sponsors.

Return to the history of the 1970's

1979 4th Grade
The venerable fourth grade championship winners of 1979.
Back row: S. Rinkin, J Barnfield, M. Allison, D. Fegan, G. Inglis, P. Cooper.
Middle row: P. Cashmore, V Dempster, M. Sweetman, D. Enoka, N. Bower, G. Lee, A.Kerslake,P Ellwood.
Front row: D. Clark (coach) M. Holt, A. Siltick (vice captain), Watson (captain), I. McFarlane, S. Reece, D. Barr (manager).
In front: M. Paton, D. Madden. P. Simons