A Napier rugby club threatened with recess just 17 months ago now faces possibly the biggest week in its 83 years after winning the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union's second division final on Saturday.

Eskview travelled 70km to beat favourite Otane 31-29 in front of more than 1000 country-rugby fans at Otane Domain, and play promotion-relegation next Saturday for the chance to play in the Hawke's Bay Premier competition for the first time.

It is an era-removed from February 2015 when the club, founded in 1933, was so short of players and committee members it held a crisis meeting to consider the possibility of recess.

But the community rallied and got a team together, even if was in survival mode, with just one win last year and, according to captain Jimmy Chettleburgh still struggling to get a full team early this season.


A significant boost came when a Samuels and Whare families reunion sparked an interest among young whanau who saw old club photos and decided to return to the club in homage to those who had gone before them. One estimated on Saturday it had brought about eight players.

The club still had to fold its Colts team after just three games this year, and on Saturday it was one of the small number of those who stepped-up to senior football who came the closest to being the hero, first-five Liam McFarland kicking the last-second match-winning penalty from 50m into the sun.

About the only Eskview person not there was coach Glenn Fraser, who knew all season if they made the playoffs being there would be "a bit dicey", because of his lambing beat at Lagoon Farm.

Club stalwart Peter Winter took charge as Fraser kept in touch via text messages from "my good lady," as Eskview rocketed to a 17-0 lead, and Otane got in front 19-17 at halftime, but then the nerves with no update after Eskview hit the front again at 25-24.

"I was so happy for the boys," Fraser said yesterday, finding some comparison with the best days of his own national championship rugby, including a last-minute 20-19 Wairarapa-Bush win over Wellington at Athletic Park, placing the "Bush" fourth in the First Division in 1985. Fraser later played 50 games for Wellington, ending as captain in 1990.

There were similarities in the culture of Wairarapa-Bush and Eskview - all about "manaakitanga and whanaungatanga," they said.

It revitalised club battlers like Chettleburgh and brother Ben, and Bradley Benton, back after several weeks fighting for his life in hospital after falling from West Quay into the Napier inner harbour out socialising with a visiting Chatham Islands team in April.

"The supporters have been just amazing," Jimmy Chettleburgh said. "Thanks to all of them."

Eskview now play the promotion-relegation game against Premier side Tamatea in Hastings next Saturday, having decided if it wins it wants to take the chance to go up, something no side has done in more than a decade.

Otane 400-game veteran Kelly Graham, in the last team to be relegated from Premier in 2006 and in several Otane teams in subsequent promotion-relegation games, warned of the week ahead.