The job wasn’t even on his radar.
Not until Hamana Amoamo, ops manager for the New Zealand Rugby League Upper Central Zone shoulder tapped Papamoa Bulldogs coach James “Jock” Nicholson and told him he should apply.
“He told me to throw in my CV,” says Jock. “He said he would have no problem recommending me.” So Jock did.
Then, after a selection process the Bulldogs and Coastline representative coach got a call telling him he was the new man in charge of the North Island Selection – a team drawn from the best talent in the five representative squads in the North Island second division, Coastline, Wellington, Taranaki, Manawatu and Northland.
“Very humbling,” says the coach of his latest honour. He had been pre-occupied with steering the Bay of Plenty Coastline representative team and hadn’t given the North Island job a thought.
“I wouldn’t have applied except for Hamana, I was too busy.”
That’s another story because Jock’s good news came on the back of his Coastline getting thumped 52-30 by Taranaki in the first of its four rep’ fixtures this season. But the coach says they showed some second half grit by producing 24 points.
“It also showed you can lose a league game in the first 10 or 15 minutes,” says Jock. “We have to work on how we start a game.”
But now it’s time for James Nicholson to step up for the North Island job. “I better do the job justice, justify their faith in me.”
Nicholson will have Otumoetai Eels’ Aaron Innes along as head trainer and physio when the North Island selection team plays two internationals later this year – the first against New South Wales Country at Puketawhero park in Rotorua on October 8 and the Great Britain Lionhearts at Owen Delaney Park in Taupo on October 24.
“Honoured to be part of it. And it just goes to show that even in a rugby dominated region there are international pathways for league coaches and players. I am really rapt with the opportunity.”
It’s understood both games will be televised nationally on Sky Sport, and it will help showcase the league talent in the regions. The English tourists will be made up of amateur players from across the country and will be making their first tour of New Zealand. It will also be the first time NSW Country rugby league has visited New Zealand.
“It’s all about networking and contacts,” says Jock. “Apart from the international experience, it could be an opportunity to recruit or a stepping stone to semi or fully professional ranks.”
Jock Nicholson is already looking to 2020. “It may be a North Island Selection team going to Australia for return fixtures next year. Brilliant for the players and coaches, brilliant for the game.”
In the meantime Jock’s Coastline team is in Whangarei this weekend to play Northland Swords. It was only 12 months ago the Swords narrowly lost to Waikato in a promotion relegation game into the first division.
“Traditionally strong and a big day for us,” says the coach.