Chris Hickey
Chris Hickey Mark Nolan

From Ballina Seahorses to NSW Waratahs

WHEN Chris Hickey took up the first grade coaching job at the Ballina rugby club in 1990 he never realised it would be the start of an amazing run that would eventually lead him to the NSW Waratahs.

Yesterday, the worst kept secret in NSW rugby was confirmed when Hickey was announced as the Waratahs head coach.

He takes over from Ewen McKenzie who was at the helm for five years and twice guided the Waratahs to the Super 14 final, including the just completed 2008 season, without securing a maiden title.

Ballina can lay claim to playing a pivotal role in Hickey's eventual ascension to the top NSW job.

It was his first senior coaching position and it led to him contesting 15 consecutive straight senior grand finals from Ballina, to Canberra and eventually to Sydney club, Eastwood.

In all he won six premierships, including Ballina's first in 1992.

"This is a special opportunity I've been given and I'm excited about the role," Hickey said.

"Every professional rugby coach in this State wants to have the opportunity to be the Waratahs coach.

"It's a big challenge, a big responsibility, but I know I'm ready and can't wait to get started.

"Obviously the team is in great shape, but the Super 14 is the toughest provincial rugby competition in the world and there's a lot of work that needs to be put in between now and the start of 2009 to ensure the side remains at the top."

Hickey left Ballina following the 1993 season after four years at the Seahorses but his brother Greg Hickey remains in the town.

Ballina club stalwart Karl Lupton said the Seahorses were proud to have played their part in Hickey's career.

"We obviously played a main role in his development," joked Lupton.

"But we're pretty proud to have been associated with him.

"He keeps in contact with the club and rings every month or so.

"He always rings around finals time to see how we are going and he knows to ring the clubhouse on grand final night."

Lupton, a New Zealander, believes Hickey will be just the coach for the Waratahs.

"He's a players' coach," he said.

"He's very technical but he teaches the basics well."

But it's not only senior rugby where Hickey left his mark locally.

He is widely regarded as the driving force behind the setting up of junior rugby in the area as well.

Hickey's appointment has been a long time coming.

Besides his club rugby experience, he has also been involved as an assistant to Rod Macqueen at the ACT Brumbies and more recently he's been the Australian Under-21 coach.

He was close to being appointed as the inaugural Western Force Super 14 coach but New Zealander John Mitchell eventually won out.

Hickey will formally start in the Waratahs role on July 1, and will work with McKenzie and general manager high performance Tony D'Arcy in a handover capacity over the coming month.

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