Over the next three weeks we will profile each of the five finalists in the Northern Advocate's People's Choice Award for community sport Good Sorts. From March 1, you will be able to vote for your favourite and the winner will be announced at the Northland Sports Awards on March 15. Today, we talk to Derek Browning aka Tane the Taniwha, who has been Northland Rugby's mascot for the last six years and has no plans to stop.
It's hard to find someone who enjoys running up and down a field in a full body suit more than Derek Browning.
Born and bred in Whangārei, Browning is going into his seventh year as Northland Rugby's mascot after taking over from Brendan Gower in 2013. He has not missed a game at home or away in over 50 games as Tane the Taniwha, travelling the country, often on his own time, so he wouldn't break the tradition.
His passion and commitment for this volunteer role saw him as one of the finalists for the Northern Advocate's community sport Good Sorts award. For Browning, the only reward he needed was to know he entertained Northland's rugby fans.
"I love the history and the legacy it has, the history we are making together.
"To see the kids smiling and coming up and giving me hugs with the parents in the background with the same emotions, that's what I love about it."
Before he donned the famed costume, Browning was at a tough point in his life, until he decided to make a change.
"I got off the couch one day after a few issues in life and then I snapped out of it and I thought, 'I could do better than this'."
The 41-year-old went down to Northland Rugby headquarters and offered his services around the same time the mascot position had become open. Not long after, Browning found himself at his first game as mascot, a Ranfurly Shield contest against Waikato.
It didn't take long for him to ruffle feathers. Browning walked out to the middle of the field in front a strong Mooloo crowd, only to stomp on a homemade cowbell just before kickoff, which made headlines across the country.
"There's nothing better than being in enemy territory," Browning said.
"When you're out of town, you can rark everybody up, but it makes such a good atmosphere and the crowd loves it too."
While going to an away game could be fun, it came with a price. Browning had to use much of his annual leave to attend every game, and, with no travel funding from Northland Rugby, required a lot of sponsorship to cover the costs.
For the Whangārei ITM employee, the costs pale in comparison to the feeling he gets, running out of the tunnel to the roar of Northland rugby fans.
"You feel like Superman because when you put this on, you're a superhero. It's just a really cool feeling."
Started in 1971, the mascot suit had only been worn by two people in the last 10 years, which made it all the more special for Browning.
It's a legend, it's not passed around willy-nilly and it's actually a special position to have.
"In a couple of years it's going to be 50 years old. We might have to get a birthday cake out on the field, but that's the legacy of it so it should be looked after."
In his time, Browning had been to all manners of sporting events including cricket, football and rugby league. He also attended Rippa rugby on a Saturday as well as the local rugby club days.
Browning said he didn't expect to win the Good Sorts award but hoped it would bring more attention to the Taniwha.
"I don't know if I'm worthy of the award but I will accept it if I do because it's great publicity for Northland Rugby and for the mascot.
"It is Northland Rugby's mascot but I also see it as Northland's mascot."
Voting for the award opens on Friday, March 1, with the winner being announced at the Northland Sports Awards on March 15.