Rugby player Bradley Benton is literally living a second life as his team prepares for what just a few weeks ago would have been an unlikely bid for a place in Hawke's Bay Premier rugby for the first time.

He and his Eskview teammates claimed his second life when they won the Hawke's Bay Division 2 title by beating Otane 31-29 at Otane on Saturday.

But it was a bit more than just a club rugby miracle, after bouncing unconscious off a fishing boat into the Napier inner harbour in a fall from West Quay after a night out with
those same teammates and a visiting Chatham Islands team in April.

He spent five days in hospital, a couple of weeks off work, and about two months out of rugby before rejoining the team.


At Petane Domain last night, running out to train for Saturday's promotion-relegation match against Hastings side Tamatea in Hastings, Benton said unhesitatingly: "I'm lucky to be alive."

He remembers little of the fall and the dramatic rescue by fishermen Aidan Carruthers and Chris Sparkes after the closing-time 3.15am fall, and the chance arrival of trained lifeguard Heidi Warren who found herself doing her first "real" rescue while out nightclubbing.

In an effort for which she was later acclaimed by Lifesaving New Zealand with a BP Rescuer of the Month Award, despite it being a world removed from the usual patch of a crowded sunny beach at Waimarama Miss Warren helped haul Benton from the water.

Realising the seriousness of the situation, she started compressions, recalling later that Benton stopped breathing at least twice before St John Ambulance Service staff arrived, took over and rushed him to hospital in Hastings, critically ill.

Teammates didn't expect to see the only survivor from the club's 2006 third division winning team back on the field again, but when he did make it back he found the side well on the road to forgetting the football dramas of the previous season when Eskview almost went into recess, just managed to field a team, and had only one win.

Benton, who in 2002 was a member of the Napier Boys' High School national champion Under-15 side and later played for Hawke's Bay Under-18 in a career spent mainly as a prop or a hooker, said he believes he fell as he went to sit down on the edge of the quay beside the trawler Kingfisher where Mr Carruthers was working.

While others feared he had struck his head as he fell, he says he now believes he hit his back.

It was the back that hurt most, and tests later revealed that while he had headaches for a week or so he had not been seriously concussed.

"I remember leaving the pub, but that's about it," he said, in a telling warning for others at the water's edge after a night out in Ahuriri.

"The people in hospital were telling me I wasn't the first one."