Thunder Tour to NZ Wraps Up – A Reflection on the 14 Day Tour with Highlights
What a tour! A party of 42 travelling around the north island of NZ (Aotearoa) for fourteen days in four large vans and a car covering about 1400 km and over 18 hours of driving time. During that time they played six matches (3 for boys, 3 for girls), attended five Powiri (cultural welcoming ceremonies at Marae), attended four high level training sessions. They stayed in two Marae, two motels and were biletted with player families for two nights. They attended three professional matches in the evenings at Eden Park (FIFA semi-final), Mt Smart Stadium (up the wahs!), and Central Energy Trust Stadium (Go Turbos). There were trips to the NZ Rugby Museum, the Auckland Museum, hikes up Mount Maunganui and Maungakiekie.
It was an exhausting trip, but in a good way. If you’re flying 26 hours (13 each way) to reach the land of rugby, you’re going to try and fit in as much as possible.
Some of the heroes on the trip, the four parents (Ian, Christie, Mike, Alyssa) who took on driving and navigating duties, the two head coaches (Clay and Sherry), the assistant coach and former Thunder player (Hunter) and of course, the tour manager, John Lyall.
A shout out to the sponsors who made the trip financially possible. Shawnigan Lake for hosting the Thunder for a three day pre-tour camp and driving us to the ferry on departure. The full list of sponsors can be seen on the tour program here.
Arrive in Auckland, hike up Maungakiekie while waiting for hotel check in, tour of Auckland Blues training facility, take in the FIFA semi-final at Eden Park
Teams train at Grammar TEC in Auckland, with games at same location tomorrow.
Team moves to the Orakei Marae, experiences their first Powiri, play Grammar TEC teams, hosting afterwards at the clubhouse.
Visit the Awataha Marae, team experiences their 2nd Powiri. The Marae hosts the totem pole created by Nuu-Chah-Nulth artist Tim Paul and brought to NZ to commemorate the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990. Team takes in the NZ Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles rugby league match at Mount Smart stadium, up the wahs!
Leave Auckland for Mount Maunganui, a stop at the South Auckland market, an impromptu tribute to the Thunder from a local rapper, and we travel across Auckland to take in the Auckland boys high school final with about 5,000 in attendance. We arrive at the Mount after dark with tired travellers, about 4 hours driving with the detours to the market and high school match.
First day training at the Inside Running Academy where Jamie Cudmore coached during his stay in NZ. Stay at the Whareroa Marae and the team experience their 3rd Powiri.
Second day training at the Inside Running Academy, includes outdoor scrimmages with academy players. Siaki Vikilani who attended Thunder camps in his youth shows up and participates in the drills. Earlier the team went to Black Ferns training and met several Black Ferns.
Leave for New Plymouth, a 5 hour drive with some road closures experienced. We are met by Canadians Noah Bain, Izzak Kelly, Jacob Bossi and Sam Reimer who play for clubs in the area. They take the team to the Spotswood United training facilities and put on a coaching session under the lights.
A morning visit to New Plymouth High School, the players experience their 4th Powiri as they’re greeted at the school. The team get to train at the “Gully” with Taranaki development officers helping out. The team then move across town to play Francis Douglas Memorial College for the boys and Sacred Heart School for the girls. We host postgame at the Spotswood United clubhouse where Noah, Izzak, Jacob and Sam man the BBQs for a sausage sizzle.
The team moves to Feilding where players will be billeted by families. It’s about a 4 hour drive with a stop at Kai Iwi beach for a cold dip. The players experience their 5th Powiri as the hosts put on an impressive cultural greeting. The players move on with their billet families.
Match day against Feilding, postgame hosting at the school. Some visit the NZ Rugby Museum in Palmerston North in the morning. We take in the Manawatu Turbos game vs Northland in the evening. We meet Andrew Quattrin and Cole Keith at the match, Cole plays the second half of the match and the Turbos take a last minute win.
The long trip back to Auckland, an 8 hour trip with stops at hot springs and Lake Taupo along the way.
A free day, team meal and awards at hotel, tour wrap up.
A touch tournament in the morning, then off to airport for 13 hour flight home.
The kids were great, the tour theme was the 4Rs, Respect, Resilience, Responsibility and Relationships. The players honoured that theme and it was a pleasure to tour with them. I look forward to watching their development, both in rugby and life, some are returning for a last year of high school, some are starting UBC and UVic this year, some are going on to trades training, one player is going to Illinois to play basketball I’m told.
There’s already talk of a Aotearoa 2025 Thunder tour and a 2024 domestic tour to help in recruiting. Stay tuned for further info.
I fell a bit behind in my BCRN work during the two weeks as readers no doubt noticed, and as I’m in my 70th year it was exhausting keeping up to this high tempo schedule but I wouldn’t have changed a thing and the memories will be cherished for a life time.
Here are some highlights:
Tackle of the tour by Paige, one of the famous Comox twins, in match vs Feilding
The boys face a haka before the Francis Douglas College match in New Plymouth
The Powiri at Feilding High School
Training at Inside Running Academy in Mount Maunganui
Highlights from 1st match at Grammar TEC
Thunder in the Media
The Thunder trip was also covered by the largest online media channel in NZ, stuff.co.nz, in this article
At the team awards, the coaches, parents, and admins were recognized for their contributions. I received this beautiful pendant which will be a cherished memory of the tour.