Levi Emery is leading from the back.
The North Otago fullback has been a standout player in the first three games of the season, scoring two tries and showing plenty of pace and skill in a running backline.
Emery (21) said he was relishing his first season in the Heartland competition, as North Otago’s player of origin, playing alongside the region’s top players.
“It’s quite an open, fast style of footy,” Emery said.
Emery grew up on a dairy farm in Papakaio, and attended St Kevin’s College before moving to Dunedin, where he has played club rugby for Alhambra-Union for the past four seasons.
Having a close connection to technical adviser Barry Matthews, from playing for Union as a child, and coach Jason Forrest through St Kevin’s and North Otago age-group teams, had helped him settle into the North Otago side.
They helped correct his game to run short, sharp, support lines for the “strong carriers” – and it was paying off.
Emery, who is studying at the University of Otago while working on a Duntroon dairy farm, made plenty of line breaks and offloads during North Otago’s opening win against East Coast, and had another strong game in the team’s error-riddled loss to Horowhenua Kapiti.
North Otago took a while to get started this season, and showed glimpses of the potential but was unable to capitalise in crucial moments. It was a completely different story last week when the Old Golds beat Mid Canterbury 32-20.
“[The coaches] were quite hard on us at training. They got the better out of us and we played a strong Mid Canterbury side and had a big win,” Emery said.
“A real big stamp, and it kind of gives us a lot of confidence going into these two home games which are must-wins as well.”
North Otago plays Poverty Bay in Oamaru tomorrow. Poverty Bay is on equal points in the standings with North Otago. A win could see North Otago move to the top four.
Emery said Poverty Bay was a “whole other side” from the first three games, and would bring its own style of play. North Otago needed to focus on its own game.
“If we can continue – that was our benchmark last week, and rise above that.
“Fix a few work-ons that we had. A a few times we didn’t capitalise when we should’ve, and I think our defence was quite good on Saturday, so if we can carry that through that’d be good.”
He was excited to get back on the home ground at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, following two weeks on the road.
“North Otago’s quite a proud rugby province. Playing at home is a lot better, it’s a lot easier and it’s always good to get on your home turf.”
Playing as much rugby as possible had been Emery’s goal this season, and being able to do that for a team he once looked up to was great.
“It’s been good getting back into North Otago … I guess in that team you watched as you were growing up pretty surreal.”
North Otago plays Poverty Bay at 2.30pm tomorrow. Due to Alert Level 2, there will be no gate sales. Tickets are $10 and are available from the North Otago Rugby Football Union office in Thames St.