After a thrilling 48-34 victory over Wairarapa Bush last weekend the North Otago faithful could be forgiven for not looking beyond Saturday’s Meads Cup final clash with Mid Canterbury.
When the final whistle blows in Ashburton, win or lose, North Otago can be proud of the 2013 campaign, but, shortly after, many of the players to have donned the gold jersey this year will be heading back across the country, seas and hemispheres having played an integral role in that success.
Fijian players Simeli Koniferedi, Ratu Vaituinaruku and Jovesa Kunawave will also be heading home.
Fijian international Koniferedi enjoyed a brief outing in the pre-season clash for a Highlanders XV against a Southland XV in June and notched North Otago’s final try against Wairarapa Bush last weekend.
Fullback Ed Keohane will be heading back to the UK following his second stint in Oamaru along with hooker TJ Harris, wings Alex Brown and Adam Anzani-Jones and Mark Evans.
Coach Mike Mullins insisted on the importance of foreign players experiencing everything possible during their time whether or not they make the North Otago set up.
“It’s important to foster relationships with players that have come out to experience all that New Zealand offers,” he said.
“Rugby is just one of the attractions that brings them here, as there are no guarantees that they will represent the North Otago.
“For the overseas players that do turn out for us, and are going home at the end of the season, it can help them in terms of furthering their own rugby knowledge and opportunities with clubs back in their home country.
“TJ Harris is going back to trial with Bedford Rugby in the UK, a good opportunity for a 19-year-old, who came out for a full club season.”
Harris, a product of Barkers’ Butts RFC, followed in the foot steps of England international Tom Wood who also enjoyed a spell with the Old Golds.
The 19-year-old said he has enjoyed his time in North Otago and has embraced the experience on and off the field, whilst working as a teacher’s aid at Waitaki Boys’ High School.
“The opportunity came up, Tom Wood is from the same club and he did it so it seemed like a really good opportunity.
“It’s been a fantastic experience, I’ve achieved a lot more than I expected to within rugby and outside.
“I think every aspect has improved, it’s (rugby) a lot more structured and boring there (in England) it’s more free-flowing here.
“Everyone’s had a massive input, everyone’s helped a lot.”
Chris Talanoa, who is expected to be fit for this weekend’s final, will be heading over to the UK on the NORFU Scholarship, the winger has enjoyed a strong individual season, producing a hatrick of tries against Wanganui three weeks ago.
Josh Clark, Will Henry and Robbie Smith will be making their way back to Dunedin whilst J’ndre Liebenberg will be Hawke’s Bay bound.
Mullins believes the success is a product of this collective effort throughout the Union.
“The results are a by-product of more than just the loan, overseas players contributions, in terms of our results this season,” he said.
“For me it stems from the efforts of a vast range of people, the players are one of those pieces in the puzzle which includes , NORFU staff, board, sponsors and supporters, the list goes on.
“We as a coaching team Troy Looms and I along with the management team, Duncan Kingan (Manager), Jason Forrest (Technical adviser / Skills fitness trainer) and Ashley Oliver (Physio) are responsible for hopefully getting the best out of everyone selected each week.”
As the players head into their final training session on Thursday, we can hope the Meads Cup returns to Oamaru and winners medals travel far and wide with the departing players.
By James Ford