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Max Heaven takes to the field in his first season with the Blue Bulls. Photo: CHILLED EDGE PHOTOGRAPHY/LUKE MITCHELL

Heaven fields family legacy 102 years on

When Max Heaven took to the field this season for the Hauraki North Rugby Football Club, he was following a family legacy that first began more than 100 years before.

The 21-year-old is the fifth generation of his family to play for the club, after his great-great-grandfather, William O’Neil, first donned the uniform in 1921. 

Max’s selection to the Senior B team makes him the 12th member of his line to play for the club.

“It’s definitely a cool feeling knowing those generations have run out and played on the same field for the same club,” Max said.

“I remember going down and watching North when I was really little, just going and watching the team. My dad wasn’t playing then but he would take us down. So I’ve always sort of seen North play.”

Max's great-great grandfather, William O'Neil (Centre) played for the club in 1921. Photo: SUPPLIED

The club was originally known as the Waitakaruru Rugby Football Club, opening its doors some time around 1909. Since then, the “Blue Bulls”, as the players are known, have gone from strength to strength, in no small part due to the ongoing dedication of its long-standing families. 

Max’s great-uncle, Terry O’Neil, is the patriarch of the O’Neil family. He played in the 50s and 60s, and was still mowing the pitch as recently as last year. 

“There’s been a heap of clubs come and gone in this area,” Max said. 

“But you know, when you see the crowds here, on the days we have rugby, it still gets a big following.”

The current Senior B team for Hauraki North. Photo: RICHARD SPRANGER

Last season, the club fielded a girls’ side for the first time, as well as Senior A and B teams, with the Senior A team placing second in the premier final clash with Whangamatā on July 15. Club historian Peter Mitchell said the resurgence in interest was exciting after a lean year previously, where only one team was fielded.

“We’ve had crowds here like back in the 1970s,” Peter said.

For Max, the game is a chance to reconnect with old school mates and have a bit of fun. 

“There’s a lot of players that I played with at Hauraki Plains College and even junior rugby, so there’s a lot of familiar faces out there,” he said.

“It’s been probably the most fun I’ve had playing rugby. This first year playing seniors was a good challenge for our team.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but we all had fun and ended up probably exceeding expectations for our first year playing seniors.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air