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Unstoppable . . . Excelsior forward Jamie Rhodes tries to get past Old Boys defenders Ralph Darling (left) and Lemi Masoe during the Citizens Shield game at Whitestone Contracting Stadium earlier this season. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Jamie Rhodes has sought new pastures and a fresh start. The beefy Excelsior forward dreams of working for a professional rugby team as a trainer, but first he would love to win a Citizens Shield. He talks to Hayden Meikle.

Q How old are you, mate?
I’m 29 – 30 in September. A few of the boys thought I was only 26 or something. But I’ve been around a while.

Q Why the big move from Athies to Blues this year?
Oh, it’s a hard question. I was just looking for a change. I got offered an opportunity, and I took it. Life’s about taking opportunities. Dan Keno offered me a coaching role at Blues and I took it. I’d spent five years back at Athies and I thought it was time to move on.

Q How are you finding the coaching side of things?
To be honest, I’m not doing a hell of a lot. Dan’s doing a good job, and he does all the tactical and technical stuff. I’m more just making sure the forwards are scrumming well and doing set pieces well. I’m actually a strength and conditioning coach. I’m a gym guy. That’s my bread and butter.

Q You seem to have played a lot at No 8 this season – but you’re a front-rower, right?
I’m a prop. A 125kg prop. We had no No 8 for a while, so I covered there. If I was a bit skinnier, it would be a good position to play. I’ve enjoyed running off the back of the scrum. But I’m looking forward to getting back into the front row.

Q Excelsior had a fairly poor start to the season, but do you think things are looking up?
Yeah, we had a really slow start with a lot of personnel changes. But getting the Shields brothers back has brought a real energy to the club. Trainings are more intense, and there’s more chat in the warm-ups. The boys are perking up. We’re all feeding off each other. We haven’t stopped believing, and we’re still confident we can salvage the season. If we can scrape into the top four, anything is possible.

Q What’s been the highlight of your rugby career?
Probably getting my cap from Athies for 100 games and contribution to the club. I wasn’t at school long enough to get a First XV cap. School just wasn’t my thing.

Q What did you do when you left school?
I actually wanted to be a chef. I was only 15-16. I cooked for about eight months and found out it wasn’t for me. There was a lot of pressure, especially for a young fellow. I became a head chef pretty quickly but then I moved on.

Q When did your passion for strength and conditioning, or physical training, take off?
I was that annoying friend in the gym that would be trying to motivate other boys. “Try this, sort your technique out” and that sort of thing. It just started from there. I was 22 when I started studying. I’d got the rough stuff out of my life and it was time to knuckle down. I’ve got a diploma in sport and fitness, a bachelor of sport and exercise, and a graduate diploma in physical conditioning. Now I’m doing a postgraduate diploma in applied science.

Q You have your own gym?
Yep, Prime Strength and Conditioning, out of a building I lease. I own all my own gear, and I’m doing it fulltime now. I work with a few of the rugby boys, and I’m head strength and conditioning coach for the Waitaki Boys’ Basketball Academy. I run a few boot camps, and I’m working with Morgan Henderson, the North Otago women’s player. If everyone had her work ethic . she’s pretty special. Then I just have a few general people of varying age groups, from 18 up to a woman who is nearly 70.

Q What’s the ultimate career goal?
Working with a professional rugby team. I’m getting an opportunity in three or four months – a bit of an internship with Tonga rugby. My head lecturer down in Dunedin, Matt Blair, has sorted me out.

Q Have you got a family?
Yeah, my fiancee is Kate Oakley, and we’ve got a 1-year-old daughter, Savannah. Fatherhood is a whole different ball game, but for the best. It teaches you a lot about your life, and you become a better person.