London can be a lonely old place for a Kiwi wanderer.
The sheer number of people, the lack of anything significantly green in the landscape; this is a pretty tough environment to try and forget you are 18,000-odd kilometres from home.
On this late April afternoon in 2013 Kim Parkinson, a Kiwi expat hailing from Kaikohe in far Northland, finds himself sitting at Chatsworth Bar in west London drinking with Shun Tamura, a five-times capped Japanese league international with links to New Zealand through his time playing union in Wellington.
Among the chat between the pair is a recurring idea of starting up their own rugby league club, but hey, this is an English pub and if the barman had a pound for every time he’d heard this yarn, well, it’s unlikely he’d be here serving these fellas snakebites.
But history shows this idea had legs, and even the following day as the hangover waned, the commitment to the concept didn’t.
The Wests Warriors, New Zealand’s very own rugby league club in the heart of the English capital, starts out as a footy club and quickly becomes a hub of culture and friendship for groups of Kiwis now living on the other side of the world.
“Absolutely, the Kiwi flavour is certainly strong within the club and it attracts a lot of Kiwis,” club manager Tamura tells kiwileaguecentral.com.
“Culture comes naturally to the Kiwi players and it’s something the Aussie and British players have come to learn, respect and love about the club.
“From learning the Maori language and our Kiwi slang, to taking part in the cooking of a traditional hangi and singing songs around a table with a guitar in hand, it’s all part of the brotherly atmosphere we have created.
“We are based around a close knit Kiwi & Aussie community and although we do have a fairly high turnover of talent, due to two-year visas, our players often tell their friends back home about us and put us in touch with those who are planning to come to London and fancy a season or two of league.”
Of the 50 players currently registered across the Wests Warriors’ two teams, 35 possess New Zealand passports, making it the undisputed home of New Zealand league outside of Australasia.
On the field the club has over-achieved with results as well.
In their debut season in 2014 the Warriors enjoyed an unbeaten year in the Entry League, including beating London premier champions the South West London Chargers in the London Challenge Cup – becoming the first Entry League side ever to win a match in that competition.
In 2016 the club’s top side were crowned London Premier champions for the first time, losing just one match on route, while also claiming the Harry Jepson Cup [a champion of champions format tournament].
Along the way the Warriors produced a 108-0 demolition, believed to be the biggest winning margin ever achieved in London league.
Former Richmond Rover and Auckland regional representative David Dyer joined Wests midway through 2016, proving a huge success and finishing the season as their highest try-scorer.
The sense of home and brotherhood was a major drawcard.
“Sometimes I forget I’m living in London when I’m around the people at the club,” 26-year-old Dyer says.
“The culture of the West Warriors makes the team, with a lot of that credit going to our coach Kim.
“He’s stood by creating a family at the club which he understands is important. I think the variety of players plays a key role in the culture. Most players playing in the Wests Warriors are there for the boys.
“The footy itself is certainly different.
“The first thing I noticed was the physicality, In (Auckland) Fox Memorial footy I was probably getting smashed every week, but the footy I have played here isn’t as physical.
“The second thing would be the structure, playing under Bernie Perenara back home we were a well drilled team and most players had been playing league for their whole life.
“The Wests Warriors were a much better team than the competition we were in – so there are probably a number of players in our team that could slide into an Auckland club top side.”
So what is to come in the Warriors’ fourth season in 2017?
The club has qualified for the prestigious Challenge Cup, where they’ll face the Great Britain Police in the qualifying round over January 28-29.
Manage to cause a few major upsets in that competition – which is a dream rather than an expectation right now – and they will quickly find themselves in the mix with some of Europe’s biggest teams.
Notable Kiwi influences at the Wests Warriors:
Nathan Ashe (St. Helens), Matt Ashe (Oldham, Junior Kiwis, Ireland), Karl Te Mata (NZ Warriors, London Broncos, Cook Islands).
Wests Warriors achievements to date:
2013 London 9s champions
2014 London Challenge Cup champions
2014 London Entry League champions
2016 London Premier minor premiers
2016 London Premier champions
2016 Harry Jepson Cup winners