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Hard-working centre/winger Mike Dorreen was a key cog in the Frank Endacott-coached Canterbury team of the late 1980s and early 90s.
He played 43 matches for Canterbury from 1988 to 1993. The 52-year-old now draws parallels between his Canterbury team of that era and the current Andrew Auimatagi-coached side.
“It was a group of people. We stayed together and were mates on and off the field. Frank wasn’t just a coach, he was also a mentor and a friend. He wasn’t that much older than us and we really gelled with Frank and I think that’s what Andrew is doing with his players now.”
Dorreen remembers seeing Auimatagi come through the playing ranks in the early 2000s.
“Andrew was just one of these players who was first at training and the last to leave. There was no cutting corners, it was the hard yards,” he said.
Dorreen played a part in one of Canterbury Rugby League’s greatest days in 1993, when they trounced a star-studded Auckland side 36-12 in the 1993 grand-final at the Addington Showgrounds.
Canterbury powered to a 16-0 lead by half-time and went on with the job in the second stanza, racking up an emphatic seven-tries – one of which was scored by Dorreen.
“It was chock-full of people and they used to have these tin fences off the side. People were banging on the side of that and making a hell of a racket, it’s a great memory. I was just lucky to be part of that team because there was such good players all around us,” said Dorreen.
“We weren’t any better individually, but we were a team. All the team bonding we’d done in the years beforehand made the difference,” said Dorreen.
“We’d go to Taylors Mistake in preseason and have a hard workout and then have a barbecue and a few drinks, and this team bonding just happened.”
Dorreen started playing league for Addington aged eight, but later switched to union because his friends played the 15-man game. He played senior rugby for Sydenham before giving league another crack. He helped Addington win the Pat Smith Trophy in 1989. During the Canterbury off-season he spent two campaigns in England.
In 1994, Dorreen was part of the Kiwis squad which toured Papua New Guinea. The following year he was part of the Warriors first ever NRL campaign. He played a key role in the reserve grade team making the playoffs and also played four first grade games for the club.
“At that time, rugby league was always the second-class citizen compared with rugby, but that year we were right up on par with them and that was just a great feeling,” he said.
In 1996, Dorreen moved to Newcastle as part of the Super League raid. He planned to play for the Hunter Mariners. However, when the new rival competition failed to gain momentum he ended up at the Sydney Tigers. He played 10 games for the Tigers that year, including a 34-22 victory over the Warriors at Lancaster Park in 1996, which saw him have a leading hand in two of their tries.
“I remember it was a bitterly cold day and I just don’t think the Warriors liked it . . . we had Ellery Hanley in our team and I remember telling him it was going to be cold. He said ‘I know we will smash them’. All these Sydney guys had in their head that they knew what was happening and we just took it to them,” said Dorreen.
In 1997, he played four games for the Mariners in Super League’s only season. He then played for Orange in the Group 10 New South Wales country league before returning to Christchurch and finishing his career by winning back-to-back Pat Smith Trophy’s with Halswell in 1999 and 2000.
Following his professional playing time, Dorreen coached a number of Canterbury age group teams – many with his former teammate Logan Edwards. He also coached the Bulls through a challenging time in 2012 and 2013.
“It was after the earthquake. We didn’t have any training facilities. We were lucky if we could get a park and often we would only get half a field because other teams were training on it and there would be softball using it as well, it was really difficult. I basically put my hand up because no one else would, but I really enjoyed the time coaching Canterbury,” said Dorreen.
These days Dorreen is working as a plasterer – a trade he has been in for the past 25 years – and is currently sporting a somewhat intimidating horseshoe moustache.
“I just grew this because the daughter is getting boyfriends and I’m trying to scare them away.”