Captain Cole Baldwin was able to emulate his former skipper Peter Rowe as the 105-game veteran bowed out a winner in his final representative match when he accepted the Meads Cup from former All Black Stan Meads after the 30-14 victory over Horowhenua-Kapiti at Levin Domain on Saturday.
Now the first Wanganui player to appear in 100 Heartland games, and the most successful individual in the history of the competition with six Meads Cups and one Lochore Cup, there were no more amateur rugby mountains left for the 34-year-old hooker to climb.
“The boys and I are finishing up this year,” he said after a moment’s hesitation when asked for his plans, following hugs from friends and family.
“No more rugby, happy to concentrate on a few other things.
“Pretty happy to let these other boys take over and go on.”
Baldwin was praised by his long time coach Jason Caskey.
Since 2006, they have worked together in every season of the Heartland competition except 2013 when neither of them were in the Wanganui setup, also the only year the team did not win a trophy or finish runnerup.
Caskey acknowledged Baldwin had been one of those driving forces behind their unprecedented success, while in the past few seasons he matured from an aggressive player into a true leader.
“We’ve been lucky the whole time he’s been part of it.
“Character – he’s the hardest worker of the team.
“Not the flashiest, but he makes up for it with his passion.”
Like Rowe, Baldwin can be content he is stepping aside at the right time.
Wanganui continue to cultivate depth, with Roman Tutauha having shared the captaincy duties and No1 hooker role with Baldwin this season, and is now perfectly positioned to be the heir apparent for 2018.
Baldwin came off the bench as a 23-year-old to replace his Pirates club team mate Brett Turner in the 65-18 win over Thames Valley at Cooks Gardens to begin the inaugural 2006 Heartland competition.
He played 61 first-class games for Wanganui while a member of Pirates club, up to 2011, with his remaining honours coming as a representative of the Border club.
Baldwin was the starting hooker in 67 Heartland games, while coming off the bench 33 times.
His other first-class games for Wanganui are the union record-equalling five Ranfurly Shield challenges.
Baldwin scored 19 tries for Wanganui, with his best year being 2010 with six.
He won Meads Cups in 2008-9, 2011, and now the historic 2015-17 three-peat, while also claiming the 2014 Lochore Cup.
Baldwin represented the New Zealand Heartland XV in two stints from 2009-2011 and then 2014-15, playing domestic games against NZ Marist and the Australian Barbarians, while also touring Australia and the Cook Islands.