• North Harbour Rugby GM David Gibson (right) with four key people who are playing big parts in the 2018 QBE North Harbour Rugby season. From left – QBE North Harbour Mitre 10 Cup squad members Tom Coventry (Coach), Daniel Halangahu (Assostant Coach) and Matt Duffie (co-Captain), with Cristo Tofa, a member of the Harbour Hibiscus Women's team who will play in the Farah Palmer Cup Women's NPC competition. Cristo was also recently chosen for the women's national team, the Black Ferns.

The Harbour Way…

A chat with…Harbour Rugby GM David Gibson

At Channel Magazine and Benefitz we love our rugby! As a business, we have been sponsors of North Harbour Rugby for 25 years, the past dozen or more with our logo on the team jersey. So when the rugby season rolls around, we love nothing better than supporting our local club teams and supporting Harbour up at QBE Stadium. As the North Harbour season gets under way this month, we thought it was time we had a rugby focus in Channel. So, rugby-mad publisher Aidan Bennett was despatched to catch-up with local people who make our national game tick north of the Harbour Bridge.

David Gibson has been in the hot seat at Harbour Rugby for a little over a year. 12 months ago we profiled the former top-level halfback and Greenhithe resident and talked to him about his new role. We caught up with him for another chat in July as the Mitre 10 Cup season was on the horizon.

AIDAN BENNETT: After more than 12 months in the role what does Dave Gibson know now that he didn’t know then?
A lot! and I am still learning more every day! People have asked me this question, as well “has anything surprised you since you have been in the role”.
I applied for this role knowing that I had a lot to learn and I feel once I get to the end of this year, I’ll be able to look back and see where the big learnings are. Obviously with me coming into the new role, initially it was about just getting to know people and them getting to know me – the staff, our community and corporate partners, and importantly the people at the coal face, in the community. I began in June last year which was probably a pretty good time, it was all actions stations – club rugby was nearing an end, representative rugby was starting and we also had to deliver an All Blacks test match in between! I was lucky there were some good people in the right places to support me and I am really proud of how we finished up, both on and off the field at the end of last year.
But this year is another challenge. It has been business as usual for our team, whilst building a bit of a game plan on how we are going to navigate over the next few years. We live in a changing landscape, so we need to make sure we continue to do the basics well, but also look at some areas where we may need to evolve to keep pace with what type of rugby experience our community wants.
I have learnt more about the balancing act between strengthening our community programmes whilst achieving what we aspire to in our performance programmes, how important our leadership is in our rugby community at all levels across all our stakeholders; and the importance of having a bit of a game plan to allow you to filter the noise, put the pressure points in perspective and keep travelling in a direction as team.
But in the end, the biggest thing this role has reaffirmed is rugby people are good people, rugby is a great industry to be a part of, and I'm pretty grateful to have the role that I do. I hope that I can add value in a way that has a positive impact in the right places.

AB: What are all the positive things happening for rugby in the region?
Where to begin on this one. Harbour has a lot going for it. We have passion throughout our clubs and schools network, and I can’t say enough of all the hard-working volunteers who do the business week in and week out so rugby happens during the year. We have a good mix of traditional and progressive thinkers in our committees, who are really aware of the landscape we exist in both regionally and nationally. We have some fantastic and loyal partnerships, that we rely on, when it comes to supporting some of our community and performance programmes. We have home-grown talent that can compete against the very best and have the drive to get better. We have a community-focused team, which includes the players, who are genuinely connected to their clubs and communities, and who believe in The Harbour Way.

AB: The Harbour Way. What do you mean by this?
This was something that existed before I came to the role. Although I have lived in the region for six years, I never pulled on the Harbour jersey and have never played for a club in the region. But I had a sense of this, having played alongside some good Harbour men and also listened to a number of more experienced heads explaining what it means to be a part of the Harbour story. For the team at Harbour, it is something we have tried to reinforce from the inside out and grow through the Union. Each of our people may have a slightly different take on it but for me it’s about people, being connected, being a team and leading by example. Not something that you always get right, and I’ll be first to admit that, but as a group, the Harbour Way is something we aim for.

AB: You’ve also mention your loyal partnership, I assume you mean sponsors? That must be pleasing. What are the other commercial opportunities that are available with Harbour Rugby?
Yes, that is correct. We have tried to take a real partnership approach with our important partners. Personally, I’ve never liked… …the word commercial, although I know what it means, it’s not really the language that I like to begin with. For Harbour, we have tried to shape our partnerships around our purpose “Improve Lives, Through Rugby”. If we can connect at that level with organisations and businesses, and the people within it, then we can co-create opportunities that add real value and meaningfulness – which is what we aim to achieve with our existing partnership. QBE Insurance, our principle and major partner, have been supporting Harbour for the past 18 seasons – that means a lot for us.  They have been unreal. We also have a number of other partnerships, including Benefitz, who believe in what we are trying to achieve in our Harbour community and performance programs.
But as you mention, there is always room to grow this part of the Union, and it is something we constantly need to be on the pulse with. Any partnership support we receive from our community goes to helping us do what we do in the with our community programs and creating engaging experiences It also supports our performance programmes, which is very much focused on being part of the team that backs our QBE Men’s and Women’s sides and supports young Harbour people coming through. Ultimately, what we do in the community will help us here and help Harbour Rugby stand out from other worthy causes.
The Hibiscus Girls and Women’s Programme is one example of this- we are proud of the fact that this has grown so fast with the support of the clubs. This is something that we hope will continue to grow and hopefully have a lasting positive impact on the lives of all of those that are involved, and in the end something that an organisation may want to help us take to the next level.

AB Are there any challenges you want to talk about?
Where to begin on this one as well!  Rugby has a number of challenges across the country and we are a part of this. One that is front of mind, is the drop off in participation in our secondary school aged men, which then has a flow on effect to our senior rugby grades. There is a bit of work going into this across the country and we are watching. We have also trialed a few initiatives in partnership with our clubs and schools but have yet to make a significant impact. I know there are a number of passionate long serving club people who see this as the biggest challenge, we have some good leadership in our schools on the topic however it is really the younger generation driving the bus on this issue.  We need to listen to what they are asking for and see if we can create more of an engaging experience, which is easier said than done.
The other big one we see is ensuring we continue to have people coming through our clubs – coaching, refereeing, administration and governance – who can share the load when it comes to safeguarding rugby in our community and making sure there is good energy and support around what happens in and outside the clubrooms. I do appreciate that families are time poor these days with so much to fit in but I would encourage anyone to get in touch with your local club or even roll down for some hot chips to see what’s it is all about. Some great people doing a power of work.
AB: What excites you about the 2018 season?
It is always an exciting time of the year, I know both our QBE Men and Women Coaching groups are pretty excited. It is when you get a chance to see all the lead up work come together. I really enjoy this time of the year, a few new faces walk through the office from the playing group, the coaching and management team step up a few gears and there’s a bit of pressure to ensure we start ticking the right boxes to get ready both on and off the field when we open QBE Stadium for the Northland match on Thursday 16th August.
It will be a new challenge for both our programs, especially our men’s team as they embark on another Premiership campaign. I know Tom (Coventry), Dan (Halangahu) and the management team have been working really hard to get us to the start line. I also know the players, including our Super Rugby guys are ready for another season playing for the province, the community and their families. I am also excited about seeing those players who have graduated out of our Harbour Rugby Pathways Program and the club competition. We have a solid number of local club players who will pull on the jersey this season.
From a Union perspective, we see our match days as more than just a game. We also see these as opportunities to celebrate our Harbour Rugby Community and the people within it – so that’s also exciting. The first game against Northland is all about HarbOUR Passion, and being proud of who we represent. The curtain raisers will be our secondary schools' girls' and boys' finals so that aligns well with this theme.  Another theme is HarbOUR Leaders where we want to recognise our important community leaders.
For Harbour it’s a bit more than just a game; if we win and don’t have a connection or support from our community, what have we achieved? I took this quote from one of our coaches but I think it captures things well.

QBE North Harbour Mitre 10 Cup home matches at QBE Stadium in 2018 are:-  Thursday August 16th v Northland 7.35pm; Saturday September 1st v Tasman 7.35pm; Wednesday September 12th v Canterbury 7.35pm; Sunday September 16th v Bay of Plenty 2.05pm; Saturday October 6th v Counties-Manukau 5.05pm.

For more information visit: www.harbourrugby.co.nz