We were a secret. We'd been hidden in dingy offices deep in the labyrinthine bowels of the old New Zealand Herald building in Wyndham St — now a forlorn hole in the ground since we moved offices in 2015.
There were only a handful of us, the first to be hired by the Herald on Sunday 15 years ago, almost to the day. We'd been told to lay low for a variety of reasons, competitive advantage among them.
Even our Herald colleagues weren't supposed to know — so imagine my discomfort when, as I tiptoed down one of the disused corridors in the old building, a sub-editor I knew well headed towards me.
Panic. Recognition was nigh. The secret would escape. However, in the grand tradition of highly alert journalists and trained observers, never mind recognition — I wasn't sure he even knew I was there.
A few weeks after that, the Herald on Sunday (or "Hos", as we all called it) was born — very likely (if not stone cold certain) to be the last major metropolitan print newspaper launched in New Zealand.
I was the inaugural sports editor; I fancied the challenge of launching a new paper in far from certain times, as well as building a sports department from small beginnings (me, a desk and a phone).
Oh, and there was the small matter of producing a 36-page colour sports section, inserted into the middle of the new paper. Every week.
I'd been told I couldn't nick anyone from the daily staff. Well, I did nick someone — Dylan Cleaver, he of the silken touch and multiple journalism awards, from the Sunday Star-Times. Fifteen years on, Dylan is still with us with a brief extending wider than the HoS — and the awards have swelled many times.
I discovered Gregor Paul languishing in a back desk on the staff of the old Rugby News. Sometimes you just know; he quickly became one of the country's top rugby writers with, in my opinion, an unparalleled ability to distil the froth, fury and minutiae of a rugby match into a condensed and accurate analysis resonating with rugby-literate readers.
If anyone doubts the skill of that, try it yourself. Write the story of a rugby match as it is happening — not describing the action but analysing the forces shaping that action, with some style. It ain't easy.
We launched at the sharp end of the rugby season. As this excerpt shows from one of the first columns I wrote in 2004, some things never change: "The game of rugby has been ill-served by law changes that affected the tackled ball and what used to be rucks and mauls but which now resemble what happens when you throw a leg of lamb into a pool of piranha.
"The surface boils, lots of bodies thrash about in a murky maelstrom and — if you stick your hand in at the wrong moment — you get very, very penalised. Welcome to rugby in the 21st century.
"It's unknowingly caused a series of questions to rocket through the heads of rugby fans with every game they watch. 'Is it a ruck? Is it a maul? Is he the tackler? Is he on his feet? Do I care? Does anybody care? Did I send Mum a birthday card? What's the ref saying? Why do the players look so stunned?'"
Not much has changed — except maybe the offside rule has been ignored and buried even more deeply than 15 years ago.
I wouldn't say we were a well-oiled team at first. We were well-oiled, certainly, that Saturday night and at a celebration lunch at a flash Auckland restaurant the next day.
However, that initial crew of Gregor, Dylan, James McOnie (before he became a TV star), racing scribe Anthony Corban and our first chief sub, Louise Smith, performed wonders; pros like Michael Brown, Simon Kay, David Barrington and Alex Bell arrived a little later — with Alex the unfortunate architect of the sports department's worst heading: "A comedy of erros". Sadly, we weren't being clever.
We introduced new columnists. I gave cricketer Mark Richardson his first entrée to the media scene — yes, I know, abuse on a postcard, please. Sir Colin Meads talked rugby, as did Richard Loe; Hugh McGahan was our league columnist.
And we struck a chord. I can remember sitting at a HoS table at the TP McLean annual sports journalism awards with members of our table heading up to the stage for gong after gong while my counterpart on the competition table glowered.
We must have done something right for he left them and joined us years later.
None of that matters, really. What does is that HoS is still going strong 15 years later, still putting on readership and still relevant in a Sunday newspaper market stagnant before HoS arrived.
As for the sports section, I remember a statistic early on that about a third of our readers were reading us backwards (sport first, then the news). I have no idea whether that stat is applicable now.
But I hope so.