Tucked down in the lowe' />

The hottest ticket in Bay of Plenty rugby at the moment isn't the Steamers or some glamour club in the Baywide premier division.
Tucked down in the lower reaches of Baywide division three lies a heart-warming story of one town's fightback from the rugby wilderness; how a footy club even seems to be lightening the dark depths of winter and a recessionary gloom.
Katikati won their latest game on Saturday, repelling the strong challenge from their cross-harbour neighbours Matakana Island 25-3.
While it maintained their unbeaten record in the lowest of the four Baywide divisions, more importantly it again drew a crowd of nearly 400, huddled in the back of the Moore Park stand or hanging onto quivering umbrellas in the biting wind.
Most premier clubs would dream of getting 400 punters every week - which ties in quite nicely with Katikati's dream of rising quickly through the Baywide ranks.
"We aim to be playing in the premier division in two years," club president Lester Gray states with conviction. "Our goal for this year is to win the third division, putting us in the top-24 next year, then come through the first division. We'd be stupid to think we couldn't play premier rugby now."
Compare that to last year, when the club couldn't even field a senior team, or the couple of seasons previously when they battled away in the Thames Valley club competition.
While other clubs limp along, watching both their revenue and their playing standards drop alarmingly, Katikati is - dare we say it - flourishing.
"As recently as February, we didn't have a team and we had no money in the bank," Gray explains. "Now we've paid for our season a month before the end of it and we're still getting these crowds. We couldn't have dreamed how successful it's been."
It was in February that Gray - who owns the town's Caltex service station and is a premier referee - assumed the presidents role, joining former Steamers first-five Erin Cossey, who came in as coach.
At 38, Cossey has enough vigour left in his bones to still foot it at this level - he played a solid 70mins on Saturday, directing traffic from pivot and jabbing away at the resolute Matakana defence.
His team includes a host of familiar faces - former Steamers and New Zealand under-19 hooker Troy Davy is back playing after five years overseas, now captaining the side from blindside flanker.
There's plenty of premier experience, with Jade Murray and Mike Petersen (ex-Tauranga Sports) and wing Richard Earle (Te Puna) featuring.
But Cossey's playing comeback isn't the reason he got involved.
"The boys came and asked me to coach this year and I'd just sold my business and taken up teaching, so it was good timing," Cossey said. "Working with kids has opened my eyes so I said to the boys from the start that my whole focus is turning them into positive role models. We want to pull kids off the street and get them into rugby and keep them active and busy."
"It's about more than playing rugby and getting pissed," Gray adds.
 "We're trying to include the families and the local youth and make it a focal point for the community."
So far, so good - the JMC ranks are swelling and there's usually a fair sprinkling of youngsters keeping tabs on senior training each week. The aim is to form a Colts team next season, while attracting home more of the players featuring for other clubs.
The team even has its own Facebook page on the internet, eagerly followed by a couple of hundred fans at universities and towns all over the country.
Starved of decent rugby for years, the resurgence has infiltrated all parts of the town. Businesses are clambering to come on board as sponsors and it seems everyone is talking about their team.
"I was walking down the street a few weeks ago and overheard two little old ladies talking," local rugby identity Rollo Dunlop reports. "They must have been in their 70s, and one was asking the other if she was going to the rugby on Saturday. The second lady looked a bit bemused but the first one told her watching the local team was the best entertainment she'd had in years. I butted in and told them they'd both be more than welcome at the next game
too - but that's the sort of interest we've been getting."
Dunlop is delighted. He's got a rich grasp of the history of the code in the town - Katikati was formed in 1880 and predates both the Thames Valley and Bay of Plenty rugby unions - and has played and coached in some golden eras.
The last was in the mid-1980s, when Bay representatives Peter Kennedy, Mark Weedon and John Cribb were all involved.
Other famous players include 1905 All Black Original Dave Gallaher and Australian skipper Greg Davis, prolific Bay wing Graham Moore and former Chiefs and Steamers lock Mark Sorenson, now based in the UK.
Dunlop explains the current team is made up of roughly one-third Pakeha, one-third Maori and one-third Tongan. From promising hooker Heremaia Murray, through outstanding ball-running lock Vaa Kalolo to wing Brad Duncan - who has already scored more than 20 tries this season - the mix appears perfect.
"It could have been the year from hell but the guys have bonded together perfectly," Dunlop said. "I still can't get over the support though - we had 50 people on the bus to Te Kaha with us and five carloads turned up in Murapara last week. It's just been outstanding."
 
DID YOU KNOW?
The Katikati Rugby Club was formed in 1880 and originally came under first the Auckland, then the Thames unions. It's the only club in New Zealand affiliated to two provincial unions, carrying the red and gold of Thames Valley and the blue and gold of Bay of Plenty in its crest.
Until 1965, the club
played in the Thames Valley competition, then got dispensation from the NZRU to play in Bay of Plenty. Though it has long lapsed, technically they were meant to apply every year since.
Early Katikati teams travelled by boat to play Tauranga rivals. Some reports even have them bringing their own goalposts with them.