A new broom sweeping through the corridors of power at the Whangārei City and Districts Rugby League is promising a thorough clean-up of an eyesore known as Jubilee Park.
Chaired by former Northland rugby league forward Riki Shelford, a committee of 12 was recently appointed and the group is unanimous in their approach to restoring the ground to its former glory and improving the premier competition, among other things.
The park has not been in use for more than a decade, providing an ideal refuge for the homeless and a target for arsonists during that time.
Shelford, deputy chairman Haemish Reid, and a coterie of former and current players, administrators, and referees were spurred into action following the maiden Northland rugby league representatives' reunion in Whangārei in August.
"We've got a pretty young and enthusiastic bunch who want to resurrect this park, we want to make it a feature in Whangārei instead of people driving past there and looking at an eyesore," Reid said.
Jubilee Park was the centre of rugby league in Northland for many years, but it has been neglected over the past decade.
The committee is now reaching out to the community for help to get the park up to scratch next year before competitions and public events could be staged from 2023.
The new committee is working with a farming contractor to mow the overgrown grass on the playing pitch, Reid has sprayed weed killer on the fence perimeter and along the bank, while a group of students helped remove fencing on top of the embankment along Tarewa Rd.
"We're a not-for-profit organisation. There's bugger-all funds if anything so we're reaching out to the wider community to provide assistance to us. Whether you can provide a farming contractor to mow the grass or someone to come in and demolish the buildings or clean them up," Reid said.
There are no major structural cracks in the grandstand and it could be easily extended off the back and turned into a sports academy or a gymnasium.
"It's not just rugby league, if we can create pathways for other sports to get into higher honours, so be it. Whangārei is growing so we need more facilities and we can help with that. There's no money owed on a central asset like this.
"Rugby league in Whangārei, in particular seniors, has been in recess. There's no competition and teams that are playing are playing in the Tai Tokerau Rugby League competition or you've got Takahiwai travelling to Auckland. It's just ridiculous.
"The demography of rugby league, 80 to 90 per cent is Māori and Pacifika and all are a pretty tight bunch and you've got so many generations playing and for it to be in a recess right now is just a shame.
"Club delegates have been informed. The Dargaville Bulls are wanting to come back out again and get a team and others like Horahora Broncos want to try to get their team moving again.
"But the biggest issue, not only for rugby league but also rugby union and everyone else, is the geographic distances between going to matches here in the north. The biggest part of that is the cost of getting the game," Reid said.
Shelford said the park could play host to a smaller version of the Fritter Festival, Christmas in the Park, or outdoor movies, with people enjoying the embankment.
"We can have representative games here or a league academy. A lot of boys from Whangārei and Hokianga are in the NRL ... there are about six of them so there's a lot of potential to grow the game but you need resources, time and money."
In 2019, neighbouring education provider Te Kapehu Whetu revealed its hopes for a sports academy to be built next to its early childhood centre and primary school on land leased from the park owners.
Te Kapehu Whetu's early childhood centre, Mokopuna, was built on the Tarewa Rd site in 2001 after a lease agreement was reached with Jubilee Park's owners.
A primary school was built on the same site in 2015 with Te Kapehu Whetu hoping for further expansion.
The others in the new committee are Kapua Nathan (secretary), Clint Wharfe (treasurer), Kath Wharton, Chantez Rohe, Sean Tito, Joel Freeman, Ross McFarlane, Dain Guttenbeil, Damion Murray, and Dave Bristowe.
All are in agreement the park will not be sold.
Those interested in helping the committee can contact Shelford on 02102978265 or Reid on 021987460.