It was as busy as a hotel foyer in the reception area when I popped in to talk to Pakuranga United Rugby Club general manager Stephen Hackett.
The club was preparing for several activities at the weekend and there were people coming and going.
As we settled down for our chat at Hackett’s desk, it became obvious the busy environment wasn’t going to work.
“I know where we can go,” says Hackett.
I followed his 6’5” (195cm) frame down a couple of dimly-lit corridors to a door which Hackett unlocked. We were in the PURC Premiers changing rooms.
After a decade as GM, Hackett, 50, is leaving the club for a lifestyle change. He is following his wife Belinda to Taupo where she now works (she got a transfer).
“My mum lives there and my wife’s mum lives there. I got the opportunity to buy a business which is back in my old trade of property maintenance,” Hackett said.
“I used to play for a club down there but I’ve given Belinda a promise that I’ll steer clear of it for five years but I’m not very good about keeping promises like that.
“Our daughter Stevie (25) has already relocated down there. Our son Carter (21) will be staying here. Probably, the club is going to get the best of the Hackett’s for the next few years [he’s in the club’s premier squad this year].
“My wife’s already living there. The house is sold, so it’s final. My last day here is going to be November 6 and my last official event will be the Friday Nighters which are a good old bunch of club members. We have a draw, a good chat and a few beers on a Friday night.”
Hackett came to the Pakuranga club in 2010 from the Akarana Golf Club where he was general manager and course superintendent for 15 years.
He was part of the change of structure at Pakuranga. Team numbers are about the same today but the club has grown its sports and since included netball and grown the touch module.
“We now have 3000 people and families linked with us,” said Hackett.
“The highlight for me is that you work for a place that wants to be connected to the community and work in an environment that you become part of your community and then the work doesn’t become work, it becomes a part of your life.
“I lived close to the club. It’s all-consuming and now it’s time for us to take a step back from that and live a bit of our lives the way we want to.
“I’m really excited for the next level, the next stage of life…just excited that we’re now moving to a place we want to live and all the outdoor opportunities that exist down there whilst still being young enough to enjoy them.”
Taupo will suit him just fine. Currently a member of the Howick Golf Club, he likes his golf and enjoys fishing. As the new home is recognised as one of the world’s finest trout fishing destinations, Hackett said he’ll have to learn freshwater fishing quickly.
And he’ll continue with rugby in some fashion. Hackett played for the Pakuranga club in 95/96 and then returned two or three years with the Presidents before he started as GM. Before then he played his rugby for Taupo in the King Country.
“I loved playing – I still play touch, I’m heavily involved with the Golden Oldies rugby as well,” said Hackett.
“I’m an active referee up here so I’m going to keep on refereeing. I may have a little part to play in the NZ Junior Rugby Festival as well which is hosted in Taupo each year which our club goes to.”
The club has had difficulties this year with the Covid-19 pandemic. During his 10 years with the club though, there were few insurmountable hurdles.
“The main challenges are always working for committees and boards,” Hackett said.
“Pakuranga’s really lucky that it has a really solid board that is forward-looking. I wouldn’t have been able to do half of what has been achieved without our chairman Robert Neil helping steer the club.
“I’ve had solid support from someone who understands sport, business and clubs. He’s been a major supporter of both the club and me.
“Covid, whilst the club’s doing okay, it’s been really hard on the staff. We haven’t been connected with our community because we haven’t had our community at the club for long periods of time.
“It’s made me think it’s the right time to do something new in my life. I’ve got that next third of my life to do something different and enjoy it in a different way.”
As for highlights, the list is long. These include the club winning the Gallaher Shield [awarded to the winner of the Auckland Rugby Football Union senior premier competition] in 2013 which the club had never won. “And to win it by a record score which I think still stands. Whilst I was not part of that team, I was part of the process that put the building blocks in place that allowed that to happen,” Hackett said.
“When we won the ARU Silver Ball (best overall club), that was a lot more about the whole club – how good your club performed across the board. I think that’s the only occasion we’ve ever won that as well because we did well in the senior and junior rugby.
“Obviously hosting Rugby World Cup 2011 and refurbishing our fantastic facilities was a major highlight. Knowing that when people come into this changing room, they’ve got the ability to go from here and make it all the way to the All Blacks is also a major change to our club.
“We’ve got structures in place now that support that. That’s led by (former All Black) Pita Alatini now but before him Paul Feeney and Wayne Pivac both did great jobs and are really neat people to work with.”
Hosting the Worlds Masters Games was massive for Auckland and huge for the club, he added.
“It was probably the function highlight of my time. I think in that week we did over $100,000 on the bar so we had very tired staff. I was playing in that event as well as managing it. It was a huge week, but heaps of fun.”
Also deserving of a mention was the World Secondary Schools 7s, refurbishing the club’s gymnasium and helping establish the club’s netball section.
“It’s an achievement bringing netball to the club so we could have the whole family playing in one place. Whilst I didn’t lead this, I really made sure that we pushed all the right buttons to make it happen,” Hackett said.
“Working at Pakuranga rugby is about honouring our past – our past people, our past members who have been here whilst continuing to give current members what they want. I was a member of the President’s team when I took the job on so I knew how important it was to honour the past whilst building the club’s future”.
Special players I have watched over the years are not all All Blacks. Some have been Auckland players David Whitecliff-Davies and Aula Silipa have played here nearly the whole time I’ve been here, and the same with Mark Dickison who’s our club captain. He’s the kind of guy that every club needs. They just have all my respect.”
He also pays homage to Tom McCartney, Numatahi Waa, Malakai Fekitoa and Dalton Papalii, players he highly respects.
“I just want to thank everyone in our community for what they’ve given to this club be they a player, coach, manager, mum or dad, a sponsor which we’ve got a lot of. They’ve all been so generous with their money or their time” said Hackett.
“They’ve been really good to work with. I’ve made some special friendships and relationships which I’m sure will carry on into the future.
“It’s been a great place to work. They’ve treated me well. I’m not abandoning the place. I’m going to come back to do transition to the new manager and I’ll be a member next year and watch my son play, happily from the sidelines. It’ll be very different not having to open the clubrooms. I’ll be sitting on the other side of the bar enjoying my friends.”