Craig Godfrey leading Te Atatu Roosters in culture change

Te Atatu Rugby League Club’s new chairman Craig Godfrey wants the club to be more of a community centre. Photo / Jason Oxenham

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A rugby league boss is going back to basics to create an inclusive community culture and doesn’t want the club to be blackmailed by on-pitch results or cash turnover.

At a time when sports clubs across Aotearoa are struggling with gaming numbers and sponsorship money, the Te Atatu Roosters have drawn a line in the sand and will not accept slot machine or alcohol funding.

As part of the Auckland Rugby League (ARL) vision, the Thriving Club model was developed to promote income diversity and leverage funding, grants and sponsorships

Roosters chairman Craig Godfrey (Ngati Porou/Hauraki-Mataora) is shedding the traditional “play hard, stay hard, drink big” sports culture to implement a community-based model. He wants West Auckland Club to be a safe haven for the whole community and not continue to carry the stigma of being a meeting place for hard-drinking ex-players and rowdy fans.

Since taking the reins of the 1988 National Rugby League champions club in 2021, Godfrey has formed a free playgroup with 60 Tamariki from the Te Atatu area already registered as a priority on their books. The club also runs Rangatahi (youth) mentoring sessions and has started Mau Rakau – traditional Māori martial arts.

They run holiday programs for the Auckland Rugby League and tag and touch competitions. They also form a netball partnership.

“I can only be as successful as the team around me,” Godfrey said.

Rugby league was a big part of Godfrey’s life. He retired from playing at Point Chevalier in 2016 and went straight to coaching the junior classes at Te Atatu, then to the committee.

"I can only be as successful as the team around me" says Craig Godfrey.  Photo / Jason Oxenham
“I can only be as successful as the team around me,” says Craig Godfrey. Photo / Jason Oxenham

When Covid landed in 2020, it was a lightbulb moment for the 44-year-old, who had an opportunity to reassess his personal priorities.

Te Atatu is a divided suburb. The North – now known as the Te Atatu Peninsula and South. The suburb is separated by the Northwestern Motorway and a rapidly growing population with a base of about 32,000. One of many state home suburbs, many families are third- and fourth-generation Māori or Pacific.

Godfrey is a third generation showground/carnival worker. His whānau has mobile food and hot dog trailers that travel to sporting and outdoor events.

In 2020, Godfrey was New Zealand Rugby League’s first-ever Wellness Champion. The governing body recognized the importance of addressing mental health issues among our youth, the vast majority of whom are Māori Pacific Islanders.

This mahi is still performed by former Warrior and Kiwi League greats Ali Lauiti’iti and Jerry Seuseu.

Godfrey’s turning point in reaching young people happened much closer to home.

“We had a young man in Te Atatu who took his own life and that’s not acceptable to lose even a young person to suicide,” Godfrey said.

He attended a Sport NZ governance workshop to learn what it takes to run a club and what that success looks like.

“When I took over I realized there was a lot to do and the club needed a culture change,” said Godfrey.

“The club wanted to be successful but nobody acted professionally. Junior club members and their whānau did not want to return to the club. There was a massive split.

“But through my commercial experience, I knew that if you plan things well, there’s a good chance of good results.”

On the second lockdown, Godfrey went through all the club’s paperwork, including the Articles of Association and financial documents, to really assess where Te Atatu Rugby League Club was.

“We needed to get into a position where we didn’t have to rely on someone’s patronage at the bar and the behavioral issues that came with it.

“Then they’ve got you over a barrel. What we had to do was team up with good people.”

This alignment began with the sponsorship of West Auckland Urban Māori Te Whānau o Waipareira.

“We will not be taking alcohol or gambling endorsements, and when we announced we were going to do so, it was amazing how much support came from other areas,” Godfrey said.

He has also implemented community initiatives. During the lockdown, members and players packed thousands of RAT test kits for West Auckland whānau.

Craig Godfrey and wife Hanna, who were initially hesitant about her husband taking on the club role.  Photo / Jason Oxenham
Craig Godfrey and wife Hanna, who were initially hesitant about her husband taking on the club role. Photo / Jason Oxenham

In order to be more visible to the Te Atatu community, the first team walked around the suburb in preseason and had to carry a tackle bag on their shoulders.

“The only reprieve they could get while running down Main Street was if they saw a local, they would stop and introduce themselves,” Godfrey said.

His wife Hanna, who is also the club’s treasurer – “one of several roles Craig has given me” – is fully supportive. Before Godfrey took on the club role, he had a long chat with Hanna.

“I was hesitant at first and discussed what he wanted to do, the pros and cons and what our family would be like,” Hanna said.

“But I see how he’s thriving and how he’s grown. He’s so passionate about rugby league and his connection.”

Hanna said they have always been active and connected in their communities.

“We’re taking people on the journey of changing the culture of this club and I’m so proud of what my husband is doing for his community, especially the youth he’s so passionate about,” she said.

The Roosters aren’t the only Auckland Rugby League club changing in the wake of the pandemic.

Auckland Rugby League CEO Rebecca Russell says clubs are creating a better place for communities, with some offering healthy meals and working with healthcare providers.  Photo / Included
Auckland Rugby League CEO Rebecca Russell says clubs are creating a better place for communities, with some offering healthy meals and working with healthcare providers. Photo / Included

ARL’s newly appointed CEO Rebecca Russell said women were getting involved in Auckland rugby league in record numbers.

With nearly 10,000 registered players this year, the game has seen a 750 percent increase in female participation and 81 percent of all league managers are women.

Russell also paid tribute to the Te Atatu Roosters under Godfrey’s leadership.

“To make Auckland rugby league a better place for our communities, we have seen some clubs open on-site laundromats and commercial kitchens to provide healthy meals and partnerships with healthcare providers to increase access to healthcare.

“Led by Chairman Craig Godfrey, the Te Atatu Roosters are demonstrating the impact that positive initiatives can make for their community – both on and off the field.”

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