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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Diary Entry 1:

Being awarded the Royal Wolf Rugby Tertiary Scholarship meant so much to not only me and my family, but many people who knew me from my little home town of Kaikohe up north.

To see the look of pride on the faces of the people who have seen me grow up is a special feeling and has only further cemented my decision to make the most of the opportunities given me.

Looking towards my first year at university, the scholarship has taken the pressure of me having to stress (too much) about my finances and allowed me to focus on other things such as footy, the rugby academy and having a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas break. Since the night of the scholarship announcement late last year, I’ve felt a huge excitement about 2018.

I had an enjoyable holiday, spending time with my family and loved ones up north, and it was good to unwind and relax at the end of what was a busy year.

Rest assured, the summer hasn’t been all about the beach. Since receiving the scholarship I was privileged to once again represent New Zealand in the NZ Maori U18 Sevens team at the World School 7’s. We finished up 5th, winning the Bowl Final against Tongan Schools.

I have also started training with the Auckland Rugby Academy. It’s been such a great experience so far. I’m enjoying perfecting my craft and growing as a rugby player. It has also been really exciting to meet new people and players, and to train alongside some very talented and dedicated athletes who motivate to reach my goals.

And now it is time to knuckle down and really focus and prepare for what will be another busy year with both university and footy.

I’m very much looking forward to starting my Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy) at AUT. My decision to study physiotherapy stems back to when I suffered my first injury in U13’s and was helped through by the guidance of a Physiotherapist. I’m also excited to start pre-season training at my club of Ponsonby and start the preparation for a busy rugby season. As I’m new to rugby in Auckland, I’m looking forward to playing footy here and testing out myself against some talented players.

Some of my goals for the year are to make the Auckland U19 Jock Hobbs Team to play in Taupo at the end of the year – and hopefully repeat the success of the 2017 U19 Team. I also hope to make it to finals footy with Ponsonby, with the aim of winning a championship. Importantly, I’m also planning on having a busy and successful year at university.

I know that by setting these goals they will help push me to be a better rugby player and will remind me to continue to push for excellence in whatever I put my mind to. I’m looking forward to 2018.

Johnny Cooper

Dairy Entry 2:

ARUSC Junior Rugby Foundation Royal Wolf Tertiary Scholar Diary Report – April John (Johnny) Cooper

Since my last report, I was privileged to represent the Blues U20s team. We had two games against the Chiefs U20s and the Hurricanes U20s where I played fullback for both games. We were unlucky to lose to the Chiefs U20s, however we turned it around the following weekend and beat the Hurricanes U20s. This was an awesome experience and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for the team again next year.

The Auckland Rugby Academy has been busy, especially since the club season has started. There is a great sense of comradeship within the academy that comes from working hard in the gym, during training, and out on the field together. I can definitely see an improvement in our performance, which reflects how well I believe Academy is going.

Club season has rolled around quickly and I’m lucky enough to have been starting for the Ponsonby premier side. I’m enjoying the challenge of playing premier grade and so far, at least, it has proved to be incredibly successful with Ponsonby winning the Waka Nathan Challenge Cup (Auckland Rugby’s Preseason Trophy).

It’s a club with a great history, and this is reflected in the awesome environment and culture at the club.

I have also started university and it is going really well. My first semester consists of general Health Science papers, which are very informative, in preparation for starting physiotherapy in the second semester.

It sure is a lot different to school. The assignments have come thick and fast, and they have allowed me to apply and expand on what I have learned so far.

My goal at the beginning of this year was simple – to work hard and make the most of my opportunities both on the field and at university. While the mix of study and playing rugby makes it busy and challenging at times, I’m enjoying it and it has confirmed my determination to achieve these goals.

Johnny Cooper