Black Marlin, Swordfish and Yellowfin Tuna hung from the walls of the Whakatane Fishing Club as hundreds arrived to celebrate the 2021 annual Bay of Plenty Rugby Awards.
With Whale Island and the Pacific Ocean serving as the backdrop for a night of celebration and commemoration, a packed out venue of stylishly dressed volunteers, sponsors, and high-performance athletes mixed and mingled before taking their seats.
Bay of Plenty based company Local Gecko Productions were on standby with livestream cameras as proceedings began. A stirring karakia from former Bay of Plenty Steamers coach Matt Te Pou set the evening into motion. The night was officially underway.
"Trailblazer" may have been the euphemism attributed by many to describe the recipients and winners of the community awards, with none more deserving than Rotoiti Head Coach Victoria Grant, who won the Farmlands Club Coach of the Year Award.
Victoria's achievement can hardly be understated, becoming the first female coach to ever manage a men's premier rugby side in the Bay of Plenty.
"I want to thank the Rotoiti Premier Men for having my back and trusting in me this year. That was massive for me," says Victoria.
Other community winners of note were the FMG Rugby Good Sort recipient Mitchell Brown from Greerton Marist, as well as Trident High School who won back-to-back awards, including the Toi Ohomai Secondary School Programme and Coach of the Year Awards.
The high-performance segment of the evening was dominated by three names who stole the show. Justin Sangster from the Bay of Plenty Steamers cashed in on his remarkable debut professional season by winning three separate awards, including the First Mortgage Trust Steamers Forward of the Year, The Steamers Player's Player of the Year, and the Whakatane Council Sports Person of the Year awards.
"It's an honour to receive this award. This year has come as a bit of a surprise, and it has all come very quickly for me," says Justin.
Kendra Reynolds took out two awards, winning the DVS Volcanix Player of the Year Award and the Zespri Supreme Award.
The Zespri Supreme Award is the highest honour one can receive. It recognises the greatest sports achievement of the year, chosen from the pool of all award winners from the evening.
Kendra was recognised for her incredible season with the Bay of Plenty Volcanix, leading her team as Co-Captain which has culminated in her selection into the Black Ferns squad for their End of Year Tour. Kendra tuned into the livestream direct from the U.K. where she is currently with the Black Ferns.
"And finally, the achievement of long-time Bay of Plenty Rugby Union staffer Rodney Gibbs has to be recognised once more," says a Bay of Plenty Rugby spokesperson.
Rodney received the Lion Foundation Representative Coach of the Year Award in his last year with the Bay as he moves into a new role in the women's rugby space with New Zealand Rugby.
"Rodney has been a pioneer and the backbone of women's rugby in the Bay of Plenty. His tireless work and efforts have helped shatter the glass ceiling of the women's game in the Bay of Plenty.
"His contribution to rugby can hardly be understated, and we wish him all the best on his new rugby endeavour.
"A major thankyou goes out to everyone who made this event possible with a special thankyou to our major sponsor Zespri," says a Bay of Plenty Rugby spokesperson. "Without your support, this wonderful celebration of rugby achievement in the Bay of Plenty would not be possible."
Toi Ohomai Secondary School Programme of the Year:Trident High School
Toi Ohomai Secondary School Coach of the Year:Brett Wharewera - Trident High School
Grass Roots Trust Administrator of the Year:Jodi Hepburn - Whakarewarewa
FMG Rugby Good Sorts:Mitchell Brown - Greerton Marist
Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Female Club Player of the Year:Lisa Egberts - Mount Maunganui
Farmlands Male Club Player of the Year:Mathew Wallis - Te Puke Sports
Farmlands Club Coach of Year:Victoria Grant - Rotoiti
Farmlands Co-operative Club Team of the Year:Mount Maunganui Premier Women
R80 Club of the Year:Greerton Marist
One Foundation U16 Girls Player of the Year :Harata Heyblom
Toi Ohomai U18 Girls Player of the Year:Santo Taumata TBC
WASPS Bay of Plenty Toa (U19’s) Player of the Year:Lesen Huiarangi
DVS Volcanix Back of the Year:Kanyon Paul
DVS Volcanix Forward of the Year:Kelsie Wills
DVS Volcanix Team Award (Players Player of the Year):Luka Connor
DVS Volcanix Player of the Year:Kendra Reynolds
Craigs Investment Partners Steamers Rookie of the Year:Nikora Broughton
TECT Award for Player Community Service:Naitoa Ah Kuoi
Steamers Personality of the Year Award:Emoni Narawa
First Mortgage Trust Steamers Forward of the Year:Justin Sangster
First Mortgage Trust Steamers Back of the Year:Leroy Carter
Steamers Team Award (Players' Player of the Year):Justin Sangster
Steamers Warrior of the Year:Angus Scott-Young
Three Dukes Homes Steamers Player of the Year:Aidan Ross
NZCT Representative Team of the Year:Bay of Plenty Toa Team
Lion Foundation Representative Coach of the Year:Rodney Gibbs
Whakatane Council Sports Person of the Year (chosen from all player award winners):Justin Sangster
Zespri Supreme Award (chosen from all player, coach and referee awards):Kendra Reynolds