If you build it, we will come.

So Kim Wheeler and Carl Carmichael decided to do that.

And they're coming.

That is the short version of how a bit of elbow-grease and enterprise has brought rep rugby back to Taumarunui after 13 wilderness years.


The more cinematic version goes something like this.

As the owner of a local Mitre 10, Wheeler was at the 2016 Lochore Cup final in Te Kuiti between King Country and North Otago. It was his job to present the winners.

"Unfortunately I ended up having to hand out medals to North Otago, which pissed me off a bit," says the King Country stalwart and Taumarunui's most passionate spruiker.

He intended to "fly the Mitre 10" flag for an hour at the after-match before driving 80 sombre kilometres home.

Wheeler had forgotten just how many people he knew from the area. Once he hit the clubrooms, plans for a quick exit were shelved. The car keys were instead handed to wife Tiz.

"I'm pretty lucky. She's a good driver."

One of those he started swapping tales with was King Country prop Carmichael. The Matiere farmer was lamenting the fact Taumarunui no longer hosted games. It was once the epicenter of King Country rugby.

"There's a photo of the Lions playing at the Taumarunui Domain in 1977. The ground is packed but you'll see a 10-year-old kid staring straight down the camera. That's me," Wheeler says.

Carl Carmichael sits in one of the changing rooms. Photo / Mike Scott
Carl Carmichael sits in one of the changing rooms. Photo / Mike Scott

Fortified by a combination of malt and hops, the pair buttonholed King Country general manager Susan Youngman. At another point, or pint perhaps, Carmichael cornered chairman Ivan Haines.

The message they got?

"Your facilities are s***," Wheeler says.

In the dense morning fog of the night before, Wheeler decided to do something about it. He drove down to the domain.

The facilities were terrible. The signs of natural and man-made dilapidation were everywhere. The terraces were a muddy mess, every window on the not-so grandstand were broken, graffiti stained the walls, the bench seats were in dire need of a spruce up and the roof acted more like a colander than a shield.

He put himself in charge of the exterior; Carmichael – whose grandfather Alby once lovingly tended to the ground – has been given the task of sprucing up the changing rooms.

They spread 26 tonnes of gravel on the neglected terraces. For that they held a working bee.

"That was a real man-killer," Wheeler says.

The windows have been replaced. Most of the seats have had a coat of orange paint, as has the exterior, covering up years of tagging.

The innards have been cleaned up, ready for paint, plywood and plastering. A local builder has been seconded to fix the clocktower and scoreboard.

All the materials were supplied by Wheeler.

Local businessman Kim Wheeler. Photo / Mike Scott
Local businessman Kim Wheeler. Photo / Mike Scott

"Make no mistake, all this has come out of Kim's pocket. He's game-day sponsor as well. That figure has gone up a couple of grand since he agreed to do it," says a laughing Carmichael.

Wheeler doesn't want to put a dollar figure on his commitment.

"If you take something out of a small town, you have to give it back," he says. "It's a simple equation."

King Country officials were suitably impressed. They've handed them a game, a 2016 final rematch against North Otago in September.

"We're a year ahead of schedule," says Carmichael, a little apprehensively. The former Taranaki and now Taumarunui Eels prop said he long harboured hope he'd be able to come back to watch a King Country match at the domain.

"Now, all going well on the field, I'll get to play. It'll be a dream come true."

Wheeler, a Taumarunui ward councillor on the Ruapehu District Council, believes rep rugby returning to the domain is just another emblem of the town's growing optimism.

He's born and bred and loves the place. Others aren't always as kind. With a population of 4500, Taumarunui has lost more than a third of its people since its heyday in the 1970s. Wheeler senses a shift.

The cycle trails along the Whanganui River are proving a drawcard, as are kayaking tours down the big river. A planned gondola at nearby Whakapapa is expected to bring more people to the region.

On September 8, however, Taumarunui will be all about the footy.

"It'll be King Country's biggest crowd of the season. I can promise you that," Wheeler says.
He'll have built it, his field of dreams, and they'll come.

"If we get Howard Paiaka and Bill Wordley coming out of the woodwork to watch that'd be neat," Wheeler says of local legends no longer with us.

"Or Colin Meads, how about that?"