John Ackland has spent a fair portion of his life doing his very best to beat the Otahuhu Leopards as both a player and coach at Mt Albert, but in 2017 he is the man charged with lifting the south Auckland club from their worst ever on-field finish.
After three years away from coaching – a time in which he served as the CEO of the Auckland Rugby League – Ackland has taken the reigns at Otahuhu, who last year were relegated from the Auckland first division for the first time in their 105-year history.
But while acknowledging the irony of his mission to take his former arch-rivals back to the Fox Memorial Premiership, Ackland said he considered the bigger picture when assuming the role.
“It goes a bit deeper, I think rugby league actually needs a strong Otahuhu, nothing but good can come from a strong Otahuhu,” Ackland told kiwileaguecentral.com.
“They have a solid tradition, they are one of the iconic clubs in New Zealand rugby league.
“I am a Mt Albert guy, I think I made that clear to everybody.
“My family still play at Mt Albert, I’ll still be going down there for a beer every now and then.”
After finishing his last professional coaching post at the end of 2013, when he led the Junior Warriors to the National Youth Competition Grand Final, Ackland remained involved by assisting Auckland Vulcans age-group sides during his time as boss of the ARL.
While his coaching CV – which includes leading Samoa through the 2008 World Cup – would suggest he is overqualified for the Auckland second division, Ackland insists it’s an ideal situation.
“I have been away from coaching for three years and I thought that the Otahuhu thing was a good fit for both me and the club…I never spoke to any other clubs,” Ackland said.
“It’s a good way to ease back into coaching at Sharman Cup level and I think it’s a good fit for Otahuhu, who are obviously a big club and their position hadn’t reflected the size and strength of the club.
“We have got a good chance of improving our position…if I can play some role in that then that will be good.
“We have had healthy numbers at all our trainings so far, I was staggered by how many people turned up.
“I only saw the team play once last year I think, and what has happened in the past I am not really interested in, all I know is I am pretty impressed with the guys who have been turning up to training.”
The Sharman Cup season begins with qualifying rounds on March 25.
(Main photo: John Ackland. Credit: photosport).