Sport: Money top issue for Otago rugby

Steve Hepburn identifies the top five stories in Otago sport in 2012.

ORFU financial woes

It should be about success on the field. But for Otago rugby for the first six months of the year, it was all about off-field issues.

There had been talk about its bleak financial position before 2012 started and in early January the NZRU called in the hired help, such was the state of the books.

By the annual meeting at the end of February, things were grim. The union was broke, had debts of more than $2 million and was headed for liquidation. There were real doubts whether fielding an Otago team in the provincial competition was possible.

But at the 11th hour, the union decided to plead for a deal to offset liquidation.

After many talks and discussions, a marathon Dunedin City Council meeting gave the approval for a rescue plan for major creditors and the union was saved. The old board was dumped and a new constitution and board brought in.

Hamish Bond wins gold

It felt like destiny for Hamish Bond.

After all, Bond and team-mate Eric Murray had been put together three unbeaten years in their boat.

But nothing is certain in sport and so Murray and Bond went to the London Olympics not counting their chickens too soon.

As soon as they dipped their oars, though, you could almost mark them down as gold medallists.

The effortless way the former Otago Boys' High School pupil, along with Murray, just raced away from the field was a joy to watch.

They deservedly bagged gold in what was a golden hour for New Zealand, with Mahe Drysdale also picking up gold.

Brad Thorn (and others) join the Highlanders

After a season where the Highlanders finished out of the playoffs, thoughts quickly turned to next year.

Head coach Jamie Joseph, who signed on for another two years, needed to plug a few holes and started with signing veteran All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock.

Then the rumours started circulating about former All Blacks lock Brad Thorn.

At first, it looked a long shot. Thorn had headed to the land of the rising sun and there seemed to be doubts over whether he would return south.

But the truth became clearer as Thorn inked a one-year deal with the franchise.

Ma'a Nonu followed shortly after, as the Highlanders swelled to having nearly a dozen past and present All Blacks in their side next year.

Steel loses 10 in a row

The Southern Steel was in rebuilding mode under a new franchise model. That is management speak for paying players a lot less.

It still had veterans at both ends of the court in the likes of Donna Wilkins and Demelza McLeod but it was always going to be tough.

The season started well with a good win over the Magic, the eventual champion. But things started to go bad as the pressure came on and the side got stuck in a losing rut. It lost a couple of close ones and the confidence of the players slowly seeped out of them.

Hopes of playoffs were dead and thoughts turned to next season.

The co-coaching arrangement has gone and Janine Southby has been named head coach, some new names have been brought in and the Australian chief executive has left.

Craig Cumming retires

Time was called on Cumming's career at the end of the domestic season in March.

It was some career. He scored the most runs for Otago and the most centuries.

Cumming played only a handful of games for his country but was a leading light on the domestic front. He had earlier given up the captaincy but was still a major force in the side.

Otago failed to win any silverware last season but Cumming went out in style. The side won the last game he played in, thumping Wellington by an innings and 64 runs.