From the Far North to rugby’s field of dreams

Living in the Far North town of Kaikohe, it was rugby that kept up and coming school boy player John Cooper on the “straight and narrow”.

“Growing up, I had a great coach,” says the 18-year-old who now lives in Auckland and has just completed his last year at Westlake Boys High School.

“Without him influencing me to make the right decisions on and off the field I would probably be in a very different place. Put it this way, I wouldn’t be applying to do Biomedical Science at Auckland Uni right now,” he says with a laugh.

Cooper is the third recipient of the Royal Wolf Rugby Tertiary Scholarship and receives $10,000 every year for three years to assist with his tertiary studies.

The scholarship, sponsored by shipping container specialists Royal Wolf in association with the Auckland Rugby Union Supporters Club and the Junior Rugby Foundation, is designed to give young rugby players academic and on-field opportunities as well as encouraging top school leavers to stay in Auckland rather than moving to other provinces.

Cooper’s rise to prominence at school boy rugby level is remarkable considering a year ago he was still at school in Kaikohe. He enjoyed growing up in the Far North, and will always call it home, but he is relishing the opportunity to be able to live and study in Auckland.

He has been playing rugby for 13 years and was discovered by Westlake Boys First XV coach, Aaron Katipa, after attending an Auckland Blues training camp in 2016.

“Rugby is a brotherhood,” says the fullback. “I get to train hard and play my favourite game with my team mates every day. But it’s important to have a life outside of rugby and a degree will help me with this.

“I consider myself extremely blessed for this opportunity and I’m determined to prove I’m worthy of this scholarship.”

Cooper will find out early next year if he has been successful getting into University of Auckland, and he has also applied to do physiotherapy at AUT.

Eight players applied for the Royal Wolf scholarship in 2017 from a diverse group of colleges, including Manurewa and Westlake for the first time. The selection criteria is based on both academic merit and rugby potential.

Royal Wolf New Zealand Executive General Manager Paul Creighton says the quality of the eight finalists was outstanding.

“They were all worthy recipients, but the commitment John has shown and his drive to succeed both on the rugby field and off it is truly inspiring. Royal Wolf wishes him all the best with his studies and for the upcoming 2018 season.”

Mr Creighton says Royal Wolf is already a big supporter of charity organisations and the local communities it operates in around New Zealand, and the Auckland rugby scholarship programme is an extension of this.

“We started this scholarship because we’re always looking for ways to give something back to the community and to help young people reach their potential. First and foremost the scholarship is about giving a promising rugby player a hand to reach their academic goals, but also to provide them with support to play the best rugby they can and achieve their goals on the field.”

Mr Creighton says the past two scholarship winners have gone on to great things, with 2015 recipient Adrian Coat making the national Under 20s side that won the World Cup this year, and 2016 scholar Harry Plummer selected for the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup team. Academically the pair have been working hard and Choat will continue his Engineering degree at the University of Auckland next year and Plummer is looking forward to his second year of his Bachelor of Commerce at AUT in 2018.

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