ONCE WERE WARRIORS: SHANE ENDACOTT

Shane Endacott – Warrior #44 (1997-99): 42 games – 3 tries (12 points)

After his first professional stint with English club Hull FC, the versatile Shane Endacott – a Junior Kiwis representative and Canterbury provincial star from 1992-94, and the son of legendary Canterbury, New Zealand, Auckland Warriors and Wigan coach Frank – joined the Warriors in 1996.

One of the most versatile players of the late-1990s, Endacott featured in the Warriors’ reserve grade grand final team in ’96 and shared his 42 first grade appearances (1997-99) between five-eighth, centre, hooker, lock and the interchange bench.

Endacott retired aged just 28 and remained in Auckland for several years to pursue business interests before returning to Canterbury in 2006. He has been heavily involved with coaching in the region, including stints with Celebration, Halswell – where he won a premiership in 2011 – and a successful three-year stint at Papanui that included another local title in 2015.

CAREER OVERVIEW

Club career
Papanui
Sydenham
Canterbury Cardinals (1994): 12 games – 3 tries (12 points)
Hull (1994-95)
Christchurch City Shiners (1995): 8 games – 2 tries (8 points)
Auckland Warriors (1997-99): 42 games – 3 tries (12 points)

Representative career
Junior Kiwis (1990)
Canterbury (1992-94): 7 games – 7 tries (28 points)
New Zealand XIII (1996): 1 game – 2 tries (8 points)

*Interview conducted in June 2015

What are you foremost memories of playing junior club footy in Canterbury?

It was Papanui and Sydenham at premier level, but most of my early football was at Hornby. It was quite funny how we started actually, I wasn’t really aware there was a game called rugby league to be honest. Even though Dad (Frank) played he was very reluctant to get any of us four boys involved. Maybe that was the physical aspect of the game, I’m not sure. I went down to play soccer actually, and I couldn’t have been any good, because they said ‘no, we’ve got enough players, no thanks’. So Mum said, ‘why don’t you have a go at league’.

Dad actually refused to take me to my first three or four trainings. He said I was too much of a mummy’s boy, and too soft, so Mum actually took me to my first few trainings at Hornby. I went pretty good and Dad suddenly got interested, and he ended up coaching us – I think he coached us from 10s to 17s. Previous to that, he’d coached Addington and Hornby to grand finals.

We had a real good group of young men and we became a fairly good side. One year, in the 17s, we got about seven players in the Kiwis from one club. It just shows you how important that good coaching is at that level. Because we were an average team; we used to get hammered by teams like Kaiapoi and Aranui that were bigger and stronger, but we stuck with the skills and we caught up in size, and suddenly we were the better side.

What position did you play as a junior?

I was a loose forward; I was New Zealand captain one year, and we had guys like Steve Kearney and Syd Eru who didn’t even make that Kiwi side, so I was at the top of my game at that stage. Unfortunately, at that stage I got quite a bad injury. With all the football I was playing, I was also playing senior rep touch; I was still a schoolboy, and I was going through that growing stage and playing a lot of sport, and I got two stress fractures in my lower back.

I was told that I wouldn’t play league again at any great level. I lost the power game, I couldn’t do any weights. I wasn’t allowed to load my spine up so I couldn’t do squats or power clings. So I sat down with my sports doctor and said, ‘what do I do? Do I give up the game?’, and his recommendation was don’t chuck it in but work on what you can work on, which was fitness and skills. So I decided at that stage to start playing at six (five-eighth), because I knew that without that power component I wouldn’t make it in the forwards anymore.

I struggled a little bit, because I was a skilful 13 (lock) but five-eighth’s a totally different position. I never really had a great kicking game, my passing game could’ve been a lot better. But I think my understanding of the game, sheer determination, work ethic and fitness got me through in the end and, yeah, proved a lot of people wrong.

But having a brother (Gary) with cerebral palsy sort of inspires you, and when you do feel sorry for yourself – you think ‘what if?’, if I didn’t get that injury I could’ve probably been three times the player that I was – but hey, you play the cards you’re given. My brother Gary, he’s done many things people said he couldn’t achieve either.

Once I got to top level, because I was an average player, I was a bit of a gap-filler. One week I’d train and play at hooker, the next week I’d be in the centres, the next week I’d be at 6, the next two weeks I’d be on the bench covering four different positions.

What were your highlights representing Canterbury?

Getting coached by Dad was a highlight because he was probably considered the best coach in New Zealand at that stage. The highlight really was probably my first game for Canterbury (in 1992), it was against Bay of Plenty, and I managed to score three tries. And that actually led to a contract a couple of years later. (Former Kiwis coach) Tony Gordon was the Bay of Plenty coach and then he got a job at Hull, and I think it was because of that one performance he brought me and a couple of other Canterbury players, Tevita Vaikona and Maea David, over and we got that English contract.

Beating the Auckland side (in 1994) was another highlight. Stacey Jones was their halfback and probably their best player; I think he was only 17. The player I marked that day at five-eighth was ‘Bluey’ McClennan, the future Kiwis and Warriors coach. It’s quite funny how you play with or against guys that become coaches – ‘Bluey’, I played against him; Stephen Kearney was a teammate in age-group rep teams; the England coach, Steve McNamara, was my captain at Hull. It’s quite a buzz when you see those boys coaching now.

Playing in Hull in that 1994-95 season must have been an eye-opener?

It was. We were a bit set up to be honest, the three of us, because we were all just kids. Tevita Vaikona, who ended up being a bit of a legend over there, at that stage he’d only been playing league for less than a year. He got plucked out of third division at Lincoln. Maea David was a strong boy. But we’d only just started playing rep football here; we didn’t really know what we were heading in for. They told us they’d blood us in at ‘B’ level for a few weeks and give us a wee feel of it gradually during the season.

We arrived on the Thursday and we were front-page news on the Friday – we were the next Kemble, Leuluai, O’Hara! And I think at that stage Hull had lost their first nine games and we were meant to be the saviours. Well, we were just kids, we were inexperienced and we got chucked in the deep end. They did us no favours to be honest [laughs], we tried our best. The three of us were chucked in this small Coronation Street-type house, we got this 25-year-old Rover, a shitty old car, between us that we had to share. I think for the first four months we slept on mattresses on the floor. It was certainly not what we thought we were getting ourselves in for, and hence Maea and I ripped up our second-year contracts and Tevita stayed on but went to Bradford eventually.

I can remember, I think it was my second training there, and the coach was doing kick-off sets and I reckon they dropped about seven kick-offs in a row and I’m thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’. But they were good people and they made us welcome. And if anything, it didn’t help my attacking game because it was still played in the winter back then. It probably toughened me up as a person. I was straight out of university, had no money, still lived at home, so it was a real learning curve. And defensively – I was probably more of an attacking player and a weak defender, but when I came back from the UK, I think I was more of a defensive player.

Where did you fall into the Super League signing frenzy during the mid-1990s?

Because I was an average player I was on average money, and I didn’t really give a toss what other guys were earning. I was happy with what I was getting and I was happy for the opportunity. I’ll give you an example: I was playing first grade on $10,000 a year, and one of my teammates was on $660,000 a year. So you could say I was playing for $500 a game and some of them were playing for up to $30,000 a game. It’s not like rugby (union), they’re not all on similar money, there is a real tier system in the NRL. Joe Bloggs watching the TV would expect all 17 players being of equal talent, but when you spend a lot of money on a handful, you’ve got to have the lesser players there as well. And I was a lesser player, and I was actually brought to the Warriors because of my work ethic.

First year (1995), the Warriors’ reserve grade had a star-studded side, they had many Kiwis. The problem was some of those Kiwis thought they probably should have been playing first grade, so they probably switched off attitude-wise. They weren’t teaching those young guys the work ethic – I think they probably taught them drinking games! (Warriors coach) John Monie got Aaron Whittaker, who was at Wakefield at that stage, and myself from Hull, and he brought us back to the club and said, ‘look, we don’t expect you to play first grade, but you’re here to teach the younger guys about work ethic’ – the Nigel Vaganas, the Logan Swanns, teach them that if you work hard you can make it.

And that year (1996) I think we won 16 on the trot to reach the (reserve grade) grand final, which we lost 14-12 to Cronulla. I remember putting up a bomb and Tony Tuimavave catching it to score but the touch judge called him offside, which I thought was a rough call. That was one of my most enjoyable years; as a league player you like to hold your position, it helps you become a better player. In first grade, I was always here and there, and I was never really good enough to cement a position. So my football never really advanced. But in reserve grade, Aaron and I played the whole 25 games as halfback and five-eighth. And you always knew there was Nigel Vagana outside you, or Anthony Swann hitting the holes; it made a huge difference and I think that’s why the year was so successful.

Did you feel being coach by Frank, for Canterbury and the Warriors, put any extra pressure on you?

Oh, it surely did. I was in a no-win situation and he probably was as well. It wasn’t a lot of extra pressure really, you’ve just got to have thick skin. I was there (at the Warriors) for the right reasons, I was there to teach these younger guys about work ethic, and my 40-odd first grade games was really a bonus for me. I never envisaged playing first grade, but it was probably more pressure for him than me.

You made your first grade debut in 1997 only a few weeks before John Monie was sacked. It was a tumultuous time for the club, and the game in general – do you look back at those times with fond memories?

Yeah, I felt for John. I just don’t think he probably handled the Islander boys as well as he could have. He was a good coach. He was quite hard, you know; I looked at Dad and he had real people skills, and I couldn’t understand why John was so hard-nosed. But looking back now, his career was near the end then and he would have been burnt by a number of clubs and a number of players. It’s a business, and you can only be shit on so many times before you become hard-nosed and he would have been let down by so many players over the years, and that’s why he was so defensive at times. I managed to get quite a few games under John before he got the sack, and he was certainly a good coach.

The 1997 season wasn’t a great one for the Warriors in the Super League competition, but you did well in the World Club Challenge – that must have been a buzz?

It was, I think I played in six of the seven games. The only one I missed was against Warrington at Warrington. It was an interesting time; you got to know your teammates when you toured. A good story to come out then was Marc Ellis, he got a pretty bad broken nose just before halftime in our first game on that tour against St Helens. I still remember Marc saying he didn’t want to go back on because of his TV career! Big Frankie told him to toughen up and get back out there. The following two games, which were against Bradford and Warrington, he missed with a strained hamstring and I saw it come out in his book that he actually made the hamstring injury up, it was more to do with his nose.

But to beat those English sides – teams that we’d struggled to even compete with when I was at Hull – to actually beat them, and demolish them in some circumstances, it was a bit of a buzz.

Also in that competition I can remember getting a getting a good hiding from Steve Renouf. It was the semi-final, it was worth a couple of million to win the whole thing, and Brisbane were the hot favourites. I managed to score a try early that night and Renouf had scored five tries in the previous game, in the quarter-final (against St Helens), and Dad said if you get a chance, upset him, put him off his game.

I was at centre that night, of all places, and Tony Tuimavave and I tackled him at one stage, and Tony must have put some shit in because (Renouf) came up swinging basically. I was at second marker and he grabbed my shirt and gave me a mouthful, and I thought, ‘here’s my opportunity’, so I smacked him right in the nose! Next minute, about five Broncos came in, and I didn’t feel the punch but I had blood all over my face; I remember I had to come off a couple of times that night because I couldn’t stop the bleeding. We lost (22-16) and they won the final (against Hunter Mariners) quite convincingly the following week, but we were right in the mix and it showed our potential.

Who were the biggest characters during your time with the Warriors?

I think the biggest joker was Joe Vagana, the big prop, I actually caught up with him at the Auckland Nines and he’s still that big teddy bear. Stacey Jones in his own way was quite a character, especially off the field. Marc Ellis was always good for a court session. We had a court session in the UK, I think there was 26 people in the room and there wasn’t one piece of clothing – that included staff, managers, doctors and allsorts, and he was the judge that day. I won’t forget that in a hurry. They would probably be the main ones.

Hitro (Okesene) was a very loyal guy. He had a very lovely wife (Donna) and I believe they’ve moved back to Carlisle. I saw the scary side of Hitro one night; we’d had a pretty good result, beating St George’s reserve grade side 14- or 16-nil. They were a good side, they had Kevin Campion in the team. Our flight got in about midnight and we thought we’d go to Hitro’s house for a bit of a party; it was about 4am and Hitro had been unconscious on the couch for about three hours.

He woke up, didn’t say anything, but he grabbed a spear off the wall that he’d got from the Kiwis’ tour of PNG a couple of years before, and chased the four of us that were left – I think it was Aaron Whittaker, myself, Logan Swann and Bryan Henare – and I can still remember hiding under the car in the driveway trying to keep away from him. This was bordering on South Auckland and we were getting chased by Hitro with a spear! He couldn’t remember it the next day. But yeah, he was a cult hero with his hair and his hard running, head down. And he was one of those leaders in that reserve grade side, like Aaron and myself, that was there to guide those younger boys through.

How did you find playing alongside Stacey Jones in the halves?

He was probably our best ever. Basically he did everything on attack and I just fed the ball to Nigel (Vagana) and supported on the inside and tackled my arse off. I’d quite often get in the top two or three in the tackle count, and that was my job. I wish could have offered him more and taken the pressure off him, but I didn’t have quite the skill-set or ability he had. I just tried to take care of the defensive side and leave him fresh basically.

How difficult was it to stay with the Warriors in 1999 after Frank was shown the door?

It was difficult, but I had a one-year contract. I think it did taint it for me a little bit. There were probably some at the club that would’ve liked to get rid of me at that stage, and thought, ‘he might try to undermine us now that his dad’s left’. But I wasn’t about that; I was still going to give a hundred, and to Mark Graham’s credit, he gave me a fair opportunity. I probably lost a little bit spirit-wise, so it was probably one of my worst years. Because it’s such a tough competition, you’ve got to be giving a hundred week in, week out. I probably did drop the ball a little bit there, but hey, I hung in there and got a handful of games (17).

You retired aged just 28 when many felt you weren’t far off a Kiwis call-up – how close did you feel you were to getting a Test jumper?

Probably the closest I got to getting a call-up was in ’98. Syd Eru was the hooker for the Kiwis and the Warriors, and we went out against North Sydney and he got injured quite badly in the first couple of minutes, so he was obviously out of the Test. So when Syd went down I was basically in. I played the next 60 minutes at hooker (against Norths) and I think with about 10 minutes to go I got caught in the cricket pitch (of North Sydney Oval) with my sprigs and Josh Stuart, the big North Sydney prop, we had a big collision and I popped a medial ligament and dislocated a kneecap.

I knew at that stage that was my Kiwi chance gone. But they ended up managing to get Henry Paul out from England for that Test – before that I think he was unavailable – and the Kiwis went out and kicked arse. So I was rapt for the Kiwis and rapt for Dad, even though I never managed to get the Kiwis jersey.

The other chance when I got quite close was when the Kiwis had 16 picked for their side for the third Test against Great Britain in 1996, and we (New Zealand XIII) were the midweek game, which was basically the Warriors reserve grade team and a couple of local players. Dad flew down to Wellington and said, ‘look, the best player today will get that No.17 spot for the Kiwis’. I scored the last two tries and we beat Great Britain, and I thought, ‘shit, I’ve got a chance here’. Anyway, they picked Logan Swann, who hadn’t played first grade at that stage, and he played well that day as well and he deserved a spot. He ended up playing the next 20 or 30 Tests and ended up being a Kiwi legend, so I think Dad made the right decision.

Do you feel that being so versatile during your career held you back from cementing a permanent spot, or did it help you play more games than perhaps you would have if you specialised in one position?

It probably helped me play more games. I mean, the only reason you become versatile is because you’re probably not good enough to cement that one spot. And in hindsight I wasn’t good enough to cement that five-eighth spot because I didn’t really have the kicking game, and I wasn’t good enough to cement a hooker role or centre role because before I went to the Warriors I hadn’t played in either position. Actually, I played a handful of games for Hull in the centres.

And it was hard, I remember sitting on the bench and I’d only trained five minutes at six during the week and then one of the outside backs got injured. Tea (Ropati) was supposed to be covering the outside backs, but because it was so early in the game he was still having his nervous shit in the changing rooms! Next thing, I’m playing the entire first half against the Roosters, who were a good side, at centre. And I probably hadn’t trained at centre for four, five weeks. That was it, I was basically there to go out, tackle, plug up a hole, where in the NRL you need to be training and playing week in, week out in that same position to have any traction.

But I don’t blame the coaches because I was just happy to be there and in hindsight because of that versatility I probably got more games than I deserved.

Did you retire so young due to a lack of passion for the game?

No, I basically got the option to go back to the UK, and Mark Graham had pretty much lined me up with a contract at London (Broncos). My wife (Jane) had just fallen pregnant the same week I found out I was cut (by the Warriors), so… she’d hated it the first time around. At some stage, a player needs to say it’s time to give up the dream and traipsing your family halfway around the world for average money. If I was a Matthew Ridge or a Stacey Jones and I could get £400,000 then it’s an easy decision.

And in hindsight I made the right decision, because in my first year after retiring, I made more money in business than I did playing five years of professional sport. And it’s not always about the money, but it was then more about family. I was an average player on average money, why would I go halfway around the world to keep the dream alive? I’d had a good run and I think it was the right time.

You stayed in Auckland for several years after that?

Yeah, we did. And what I teach young fellas now is, sometimes you take a contract – I probably went from $30,000 down to $10,000 when I moved from England to Auckland, but I was smart enough to know the $10,000 wasn’t the big thing. The Warriors were buzzing at that stage, and the contacts that we made in the corporate boxes after the match were worth five-fold of what my contract was worth.

I met a gentleman there that was tied up in the As Seen On TV business, and when he found out I was leaving the Warriors he offered me an opportunity, and it really set me up for life. So networking in those corporate boxes was invaluable.

When did you and your family move back to Canterbury?

It would have been 2006 when we came back. My oldest daughter turned 5, and it was always the family plan to bring her home for her schooling in Christchurch, and that (grandparents) Frank and Joan would be coming back from the UK to find a piece of land that we could bring up the family on, near the grandparents. So that was the main reason for coming home, more family than anything.

What have you been doing with yourself, aside from rugby league, since you’ve been back in Canterbury?

Since the earthquakes, we’ve set up a building company, a plastering company and a painting company. We’ve got a number of League players working for us. Quite a few Linwood boys, quite a few Hornby boys. Just trying to look after that League community, and the business has been very successful. The last three or four years have gone really well, we’ve had up to 26 staff.

I’ve also got another company called Roar Material with a business partner, Hamish Miller, in Auckland. He’s a very clever marketer, he works for FIFA and does a lot of work for New Zealand Football. We brand sports equipment, so we’ve got brands like ASB, McDonald’s. So we brand soccer balls, cones and boot bags and that sort of thing.

Talk us through your coaching career in the region?

When I first got back there was a couple of clubs talking to me. Celebration at one stage asked me to give them a hand, so I went in there for a year and, where I could, added advice. Then I had a couple more years off and had a call from Jeff Whittaker to say that Halswell were looking for a new coach (in 2011), and at that stage they hadn’t made the finals for four years. But Phil Prescott had done a lot of good work over the previous two years and got a pretty good team together. I was also talking with Linwood at that stage; they interviewed me as well, but I chose to go with Halswell. Which is a long way from Clarkeville, but I decided to give those guys a go.

I managed to get a couple of senior signings across, both from Celebration, Manu Weepu and Jaye Pukepuke. And I really thought we needed that muscle there, because Halswell always had a great ability to produce juniors but they would blood five of six juniors in at one time without that muscle around them and a lot of them got disillusioned, and beaten up basically. We had a real good mix; we won the Grand Final comfortably that year and won the competition.

Then the earthquake stuff started, and the following year (2012) I felt like I probably gave about 80 per cent to the team compared to 100 per cent the year before. We had a very good team and went very well in the competition, but we probably got the wettest day of the year in the Grand Final. We’d beaten Hornby by about 30 in the semi on a hard pitch two weeks beforehand but ‘Stuey’ (Hornby coach Brent Stuart) did a great job that day, got his boys fired up, and their older boys really stepped up – Corey Lawrie was exceptional that day – and they deserved their win.

At that stage my business was getting bigger and bigger, so I thought I would concentrate on work, because I’ve got staff I’m responsible for and I felt if I was to coach Halswell again I could only give them 60 per cent and those boys deserved 100. So Darrell Coad took over, with Craig Sutherland as manager, and they were extremely successful for the next couple of years. I think it’s important that when you leave a club, you’ve got to make sure they’re strong. You’re not just walking away from it. I’ve stayed on the Halswell coaching panel for the last couple of years, selecting their coaches. But yeah, I really, really enjoyed it.

And this year I just employed a guy to take my role over, so I had a little bit more free time. I gave Halswell an indication I was happy to help them out where I could, but they’ve got a good coach in place there, Robbie (Fa’alilo), and he’s obviously had it under control. I got an SOS call from Papanui basically, saying that they were three weeks out from the competition starting, and they were having a few wee issues there, and could I turn up for a few trainings or half a season – we didn’t really know. It was just ‘can you turn up and help out’, see how it goes, and possibly work on work ethic and that sort of thing. And I’m still there, I’m not sure how much longer they’ll need me.

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