Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins has made the difficult decision to leave his dream job at the end of August to relocate to join his family in Australia.
New Plymouth-raised Collins, the former Waikato and Chiefs prop, assumed charge of the Chiefs in 2017. That five-year period included guiding the franchise through recent turbulence as Super Rugby navigated the disruption caused by the global pandemic.
During Collins' time at the helm the Chiefs featured in the Super Rugby quarterfinals in 2018 and 2019. They contested last year's Aotearoa final against the Crusaders, and finished third this season.
The Chiefs Manawa also claimed the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki title earlier this year.
"Rugby has played a huge part in my life, and it was a tough decision to step away from this role, which really has been a dream job for me," Collins, the former Taranaki chief executive, said. "It has been a privilege and career highlight to work for both the Chiefs and Taranaki Rugby Football Union, both organisations which are close to my heart."
The time has come, however, for Collins to put family first and move to join his family – wife Sarah and their children Abby and Joe, the 18-year-old who competes in the Nutri-Grain Ironman series - on the Gold Coast.
"I am really happy with my contribution and feel now is as good a time as any to step away from rugby and seek new challenges."
Chiefs chair Simon Graafhuis says the club is sad to lose someone with the experience and mana of Collins but fully supports his decision.
"On behalf of the board, I would like to acknowledge Mike for the significant contribution he has made, and the way he has gone about it," Graafhuis said. "He is going to leave a massive hole in the organisation - his passion for the club and the game is evident in everything he does. He has deep connections with the club's players, coaches, management, board, commercial partners and the community and brings an inclusive approach in the way he makes people and groups feel welcome in our environment.
"Mike leaves the organisation in a much better position than when he arrived five years ago. Commercially the club has been successful over Mike's tenure, which includes a period that has been hugely challenging during Covid, when we hosted games without crowds. He has brought skills into the organisation that will set the Chiefs up for the future, including developing unique IP that will deliver years into the future, and he has brought in key talent including coaching staff and a playing roster than should produce some special result for the club in coming years.
"The club has a deep connection with Tikanga Māori, and all the cultures of those in the organisation and we often use the proverb about the Waikato river of 'He Piko, He Taniwha' which is printed into the collar of the Chiefs playing jersey. It refers to the fact the Waikato has many bends (He Piko) and at every bend a Chief (He Taniwha). Mike is a true leader and Chief. He goes with our blessing, always remaining part of the Chiefs whanau.
"We will begin a recruitment process in the coming weeks to find a new CEO to guide the club forward but for now, we just want to acknowledge all of Mike's efforts and say thank you to him."
For his part, Collins says he is grateful for all the support he has received in his time with the Chiefs.
"I want to acknowledge all the board members, staff and players I have had the pleasure of working with as well as the wider Chiefs family and community. I feel humbled to have been involved in a professional sports club with such a strong connection to Tikanga Māori and to its community."
Collins, who recently celebrated with his team mates the 30th anniversary of the New Plymouth Boys' High School's First XV win in the unofficial schools' world championship, also paid tribute to his Taranaki roots.
"It has been a highlight and a privilege to work for my home province of Taranaki. I am extremely fortunate to have been mentored, guided and challenged by some outstanding individuals associated with the Taranaki Rugby Football Union.
"I would also like to acknowledge New Zealand Rugby for the numerous opportunities they have provided for me to grow and develop my administration skills within rugby."
Collins says he is especially grateful to his family for all their support and to his parents, Kevin and Margaret, for their encouragement over the years.
Collins will remain with the Chiefs until the end of August and will then assume a new role outside rugby based on the Gold Coast.