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Tangaere-Manuel, NPEC's longest-serving CEO, farewelled

Cushla Tangaere-Manuel represented Ngati Porou East Coast with class for nine years.

Her union's sixth and longest-serving chief executive officer — Anthony Nelson was the first, Arthur (Mopey) Devery was the fifth — Tangaere-Manuel did a tremendous job for New Zealand Rugby's smallest province.

She took over from former Coast prop Devery in 2013, the Sky Blues having come from 27-3 down to beat Wanganui 29-27 to win the Meads Cup at home the previous season.

In the tradition of strong female advocacy and leadership for Coast rugby (thinking of the late Kath McLean, union secretary and recipient of the International Rugby Board Chairman's Award in 2001, and Agnes Walker, the first female chief executive of NPEC), Tangaere-Manuel has worked hard to achieve the aims of the NPEC board.

Campbell Dewes has taken over from Bailey Mackey as president of the East Coast Rugby Union and was chairman during her tenure.

“Cushla grew into the job and made positive contributions at regional and national level — for example, at Tini a Maui, the New Zealand Maori Rugby Board, Heartland Rugby and NZ Rugby Board level,” Dewes said.

“When she came into the job, the East Coast Rugby Union was in overdraft; as she leaves, we have annual surpluses.

“Cushla fleshed out our plans to first maintain and then strengthen whanau-based club, hapu-based, iwi-driven NPEC rugby. The evidence of that lies in the number of representative teams that we now field — under-14, 15, 16 and 18 level for the boys, plus the Heartland team, and under-15s, 18s and senior women. We have eight representative teams.

“Such is the strength of our junior and teenage rugby, and our women's rugby is on the rise.

“On her watch, the union had new headquarters built, and we celebrated our centenary in 2021. Cushla brought her reo (language) and tikanga (protocol, customs) to the table and emphasised the importance of our whanaungatanga (family values and ethos) and manaakitanga (hospitality), Ngati Poroutanga.

“He wiwi he Nati, he whanoke.”

The Sky Blues' sixth chief executive is held in high regard by those in high places.

Former NZ Rugby chief executive Brent Impey said: “Cushla's been terrific. She was presented with a gift at her last meeting of CEOs and chairs in Wellington. NZR deputy chair Farah Palmer spoke about Cushla's contribution to not just NPEC but Maori rugby. She's a leader and she made a difference. Cushla is a great speaker and has a future at governance level.”

Cushla Tangaere-Manuel was head girl at Ngata Memorial College and her professional background, before she took up her pivotal role in NPEC rugby, was as a journalist in TV and radio.

“I grew up in Rangitukia and probably spent more time at Hinepare Marae than I did at George Nepia Memorial Park, or ‘Windy Park', as we called it,” she said.

“Rugby was a great family day out and my main involvement was as a supporter of Waiapu, our family club, and later the Coast. My late father-in-law, John Manuel, was a life member of NPEC and president of NPEC.

“I used to travel back from uni in Wellington to see Waiapu play and got caught up in the fairytale that was East Coast rugby in the late 1990s. I'd moved from Auckland to Gisborne and then home in 2011 and this has been the great career challenge of my life to date — to be thrust into a whole different industry. It's a bit like being stranded on an island. NZ Rugby flew me down to Wellington for my induction in 2012, and I want to acknowledge the camaraderie of the Heartland collective.

“Their support, those relationships, helped me to maintain my passion and commitment,” she said.

“The biggest challenges were a lack of resources, isolation and, initially, my lack of knowledge of rugby as an industry.

“I'll be forever grateful to our small, loyal staff and our army of volunteers. Part of leadership is knowing when it's time to move on. We have enduring relationships. It's about the longevity of the union.

“Our clubs have their own mana motuhake. For instance, the union doesn't have jurisdiction over their grounds, although we have 600 registered players.

“Nothing can be taken for granted on the rugby landscape. The time's right for me to go. The NPEC board and other voluntary boards I've worked with were immensely passionate. I was here to run the business.

“That being said, one of the joys I've had is the opportunity to be at different clubs, meet the uncles, aunties, the volunteers who make rugby happen on the Coast.

“I'd like to acknowledge all of our administrators, officials and community members and I fully support the union and the future it takes. I'd like to acknowledge all of those who've gone before and those who follow.

“Nanny Kath, Bebop (the late Jimmy Aupouri), Troy Para, I take my hat off to all of them. I'll always be grateful to Agnes (Walker), as the first female CEO in NZ Rugby, for taking the time out to share a few insights and experiences with me before I started.”

Susan Youngman, general manager of King Country between 2014 and 2020, and Wanganui chief executive Bridget Belsham met and rose to many of the challenges Cushla faced.

Belsham said: “Cushla was CEO of the only iwi-based provincial rugby union, a wonderful colleague who was dedicated to her job and passionate about her community.

“She paved the way for other wahine to strive to succeed in sport administration. She was chair of the Heartland Secretariat in 2021, a challenging year due to Covid-19 and was appointed to the NZ Maori Board — a position she still holds — and that's an amazing achievement.

“Cushla's an inspiration to women in general. I'll miss her infectious personality at our meetings and her beautiful karaoke singing. It's been a pleasure working with her. I'm proud to say we've formed a life-long friendship.”

These sentiments were echoed by Bailey Mackey.

“Ngati Porou East Coast have been lucky to have someone of the calibre of Cushla,” he said.

“She's highly regarded and well-respected in the game nationally and the reaction of people on the different rugby boards recently to news of her departure is testament to her standing in the game.

“She's been a tireless advocate for rugby on the Coast and will be sorely missed.”

Longest-serving chief executive: Cushla Tangaere-Manuel has been Ngati Porou East Coast Rugby chief executive for nine years — a longer term than any of her five predecessors in the role. Picture supplied