Shane Christie with his dog Rajah. Shane lead the Tasman Mako onto the pitch for the 2013 Mitre 10 Cup championship final. Photos: Andrew Board/Shuttersport.

Head knocks force change of career

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Former Mako rugby captain Shane Christie has officially ended his playing career – swapping his playing boots for a coaches’ clipboard.

Shane, 32, has been side-lined since having concussion issues during 2016 and officially retired after receiving a medical report last week.

His last game was in November 2016 when he left the field with concussion-like systoms during a Maori All Blacks match in the United States.

But his rugby career isn’t over as he transitions from a player into a coach.

Shane has been contracted by the Tasman Rugby Union to be the Mako head forward coach for the 2018 season after spending the previous Mitre 10 Cup campaign as a non-playing advisor.

He says he feels like an apprentice again.

“It certainly knocks you down a peg or two. Being the captain of the team to being a rookie coach, you’ve got to start from scratch. It’s cool, it breaks you down, it’s good. I thought I knew my stuff, but I don’t.”

Shane is part of a four-man coaching set-up, with Leon MacDonald as head coach, Andrew Goodman as backs and defence coach and Clarke Dermody as set-piece coach.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity and to be there with Leon, who has been with the Mako for eight years, and Andrew Goodman who I played with for a couple of seasons. It’s awesome to move onto another phase with someone I played with and are good mates with.”

He says the goal for this season is to do something that eluded him as a player – win the Mitre 10 Cup premiership.

“We’ve been in three finals and have lost them all, but hopefully we’ve learnt from that. I’m really excited about the team we have this year and what we can achieve, it’s exciting.”

Shane grew up in Canvastown, was schooled in Wellington before moving to Nelson as an apprentice builder and to play club rugby for Nelson. It took him four years to earn a spot in the team and another season to cement himself as the region’s top open-side flanker.

In 2013 he was made captain and that coincided with the Mako becoming one of the country’s top provincial side, winning the Mitre 10 Cup championship. That same year he was picked up by the Crusaders but found more playing time with the Highlanders the following season.

His performances there saw him become co-captain of the championship-winning Highlanders in 2015.

He also played two games for the All Black Sevens in 2010/11 season and was a regular with the Maori All Blacks.

Shane says after his last head knock he tried for six months to return to the field and spent last Super Rugby season with the Highlanders trying to regain fitness.

“I spent six months trying to come right, it wasn’t until about May or June 2017 that I thought I might not come right from this. It was tough, it was a tough year. Concussion is pretty serious, people who go through it, it’s full on. You go from being a pretty full-on professional rugby player to living like a 60 year old, almost overnight. The hardest thing is the different mindset that you need.”

He says the highlights of his playing career include winning the Mitre 10 Cup Championship at Trafalgar Park.

“It was amazing. They had the kick to win at the end and our supporters group were just giving it to him. I could hear them over my shoulder and he shanked it, those 60 guys won that game for us. That was a real highlight,” he says.

Shane says he’s had great support from his family, colleagues at the Tasman Rugby Union, and Highlanders during the last year.

“I’d like say a big thank you to all the players but especially the Mako and Highlander players. The wins and losses aside, playing and training with my mates has always been the most satisfying part of rugby.”

As a coach Shane says he has a lot to learn but is treating his new job like his last one.

“For me it’s all about intent. Turning up and doing the best job you can and, if success comes from that, then great.”

If his coaching career turns out anything like his playing days, success shouldn’t be too far away.