What NZR's Silver Lake deal could mean to grassroots rugby in Aotearoa

A world away from the boardroom battles and multi-million dollar deals is Tihirau Victory Club's home ground, next to their school and marae and nestled in front of their ancestral maunga on the North Island's East Cape.

They proudly have nine junior sides and senior men's and women's teams. 

"It brings our community together," says Tihirau's Moana Mato. 

"We're not a big community - I think about four or 500 people max, but everyone comes on the day to support everyone and have a good time."

They're forestry and farm workers who travel hours just to train on a ground without lights.

You don't get more grassroots than this - the most remote club, in the country's most remote provincial union. So, how's the Silver Lake deal going to help them?

While the deal has been light on detail to date, Newhub understands better training and ground facilities, modernised clubrooms that can accommodate the growing number of women players and a boost for junior and school competitions are part of a $39 million package on offer from New Zealand Rugby.

"If the transaction went ahead, there would be a significant investment directly into the grassroots of the game," says NZR chief executive Mark Robinson.

"That would be seen immediately and that would be across all levels of the game but over 75 percent would go into the community game."

Back on the East Cape, there's a healthy scepticism about any potential windfall.

If anything comes out of this deal, we won't be waiting with bated breath, because in the past we've received nothing and we've done well with nothing," says Tihirau's Rika Mato. 

"But if something transpires from this deal we would certainly utilise it."

Two hours drive away in comparatively cosmopolitan Ruatoria - home of the Ngati Porou East Coast Union - they're celebrating their centenary, their existence a testimony in recent years to surviving on tightening budgets and the work of volunteers.

But it needs to change.

"When you've just marked the field, mowed the field, cleaned out the clubrooms sometimes you just don't have time to sit down with someone and talk about your strategic plan," says Ngati Porou East Coast chief executive Cysla Tangaere-Manuel.

They're sentiments echoed around the country, but if the Silver Lake deal gets kicked to touch rugby bosses say it'll get worse.

"Ultimately all levels of the game would suffer," says Robinson. "But particularly in that community level of the game, we think that we'd be really compromised around the level of support we could provide that." 

And if Robinson's looking for tips on how to secure victory, he could listen to the club that has victory in its name, formed by vets of the famed C Company of the Māori Battalion - who knew a thing or two about fighting.

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