When New Zealand’s Super 12 franchises were created back in 1996, the idea was to create five teams that would give everyone in the country – no matter where they reside – a team to root for.

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That didn’t quite work out in practice, however.

The five clubs were each handed a number of regions across the country from which they were allowed to recruit players. This gave the squads a little bit of variety but the vast majority of players still came from the five major centres of the country – Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago.

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Israel Dagg and Kirstie Stanway chat to Kiwi rugby players at home and abroad as the great game prepares to return.

Factor in that those five regions were attached to the five club names and you can understand why there may have been a little bit of disconnect between the provinces with fewer Super 12 players and the franchises that were supposed to represent them.

The chopping and changing of what franchise represented what region also didn’t help creating identities for the clubs. The Auckland Blues started out with Auckland and Counties Manukau under their umbrella but after a few years swapped the latter region for Northland and North Harbour. It was a move that made geographical sense – but it didn’t help create especially strong ties behind Northland and the Blues, at least in the early days.

In recent years, particularly since Tana Umaga came on board as head and now assistant coach, Northland and North Harbour have had larger presences in the Blues set-up, but the Blues team of the early 2000s was hardly representative of the wider region.

For Jack Goodhue, who is native to the Blues region but plays for the Crusaders, that disconnect didn’t foster any major desire in the 25-year-old to represent his local Super Rugby side from an early age.

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“I think, growing up, you had the likes of Rene Ranger, Gus Collins and Rupeni Caucaunibuca, as I remember,” Goodhue told RugbyPass regarding his early memories of the Blues team.

“I’m sure there was a couple of others, but me being a kid I didn’t really know too much – that seemed like the max of the representation. So it didn’t seem like a pathway (for Northland natives), as such.”

Goodhue didn’t aspire to play for the Crusaders either, however. In fact, the All Black midfielder only had one prize in mind – representing his Northland region in the New Zealand provincial competition.

“I felt really connected to Northland,” Goodhue said. “That was the team that my family and I would watch live, so it was always a dream of mine to play for them.

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“As a kid, passions get ignited and I guess that’s where dreams come from and what you want to do with your life. I just didn’t have that same attachment to the Blues – for no reason other than I just wasn’t from that area as such.”

“The dream was always to play for Northland, and that was where my heart lied.”

The widespread layout of the region makes it tough even now for the fans in the top parts of the nation to really get behind the Blues, despite the best efforts of the franchise to bring together three fairly separate (yet still technically identical) reasons.

“The Blues region is so massive,” said Goodhue. “It’s a three- to three-and-a-half-hour drive to get from where I live to central Auckland.”

While Goodhue and his twin brother Josh both went to school in central Auckland, Jack was lured to Lincoln University on a rugby scholarship and started to play his rugby for Canterbury. Despite technically hailing from the Blues region, there was no turning back for the Northlander.

“I think the Blues did an awesome job of talking to my brother and I,” Goodhue said. “They wanted us to stay and tried to make that happen. But by then, I was already down in Christchurch and studying there and I just liked Christchurch as a city.”

Goodhue is in the final year of his current contract with the Crusaders and will likely be based in Christchurch for the long-term future, but he has left a slither of hope to other franchises that he may be willing to make a move at some point – for one reason.

“I love it down in Christchurch but of course the big incentive is playing with my twin brother,” said Goodhue of Josh, who is contracted with the Blues.

“That would be the motivation for if there was ever going to be a change but I’m really settled with the Crusaders and love being here and love what the team’s about and really feel a part of it.”

Jack and Josh played together for Northland during Jack’s debut season with the Taniwha in 2017 but Jack has had limited opportunities to don the province’s Cambridge blue jersey since then due to his All Blacks commitments.

“It was really cool because I’ve got so many cousins and family in Whangarei, so they were all able to come watch me play live – something that some of them have never been able to do before,” Goodhue said regarding his Northland debut.

“Also just to play with my twin brother… and it just really is that every player in the Northland team I really like. They’re all just good guys. I guess we’re all from similar upbringings, the lot of us. They are just a really good team.

Like the Blues, Northland has its own challenges due to the sheer size of the region – which traverses all the way from Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island down to Wellsford (roughly a five-hour car journey).

“Yeah, it’s really spread out and that makes the development quite difficult when it comes to having the academy,” Goodhue said. “They have two or three different academies and managing that can be very difficult.

“But what’s awesome about Northland is that a large majority follow the rugby. It’s kind of Northland’s main sports team. You walk down the street and people know what’s going on. There’s a high percentage of Northlanders that watch the rugby, more than perhaps the city provinces.”

Of course, one of the proposed rugby events for 2020 is a North Island v South Island match – and Goodhue has a finger in both pies. Given his strong ties to Northland, however, would he choose to represent the North Island, if the choice was up to him?

“I don’t even know if I want to make that decision,” Goodhue said. “Man, I think about the opportunity to play with some guys in the North Island that I haven’t played with before, but then to go back and play with the Crusader boys and Highlander boys… I mean, I think it’s going to be two very good teams. It’s all good either way.

Before that exhibition match can take place, however, Goodhue and his Crusaders teammates have the first-ever Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to play for, which kicks off in mid-June.

While pundits will be quick to talk up the fact that the Crusaders will likely be fielding two midfielders who were born and raised in the Blues region when the two sides face off in the fifth and final rounds of the competition– Goodhue and Braydon Ennor – it’s safe to say their won’t be any split allegiances.

Goodhue is a Crusader through-and-through despite his Northland upbringings and will be doing his part to get his side over the line come matchday.

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