Last Saturday’s Heartland rugby clash was a special one for Lemi Masoe.
The 38-year-old became North Otago Rugby’s newest centurion, as he took the field against Wanganui in front of a home crowd at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.
“It is an absolute honour to be part of that group [of centurions] now,” Masoe said.
“I never thought that day would come. It was a special moment on Saturday.”
Masoe’s journey towards 100 games for North Otago started in 2007 when he was playing club rugby for Green Island in Dunedin and was enticed by a friend to play for the Old Golds.
He then moved to North Otago and has played club rugby for Old Boys ever since.
Three years earlier, Masoe had moved to New Zealand from Samoa, to help support his family at home.
“Twelve years later, I’m still here,” Masoe laughed.
“The community is small and everyone helps each other. I really like it.”
Highlights had included two Meads Cup wins in 2007 and 2010, and selection for the New Zealand Heartland XV.
Playing in the Heartland Championship for 12 years had afforded Masoe the chance to make connections all over the country.
“If you are at it for so many years you get to make a lot of friends, and a lot of memories that you can cherish forever.”
Masoe has showed few signs of slowing up this season, and is still a key figure to the North Otago backline.
“I still feel like the body is still holding up.
“The coaches have pushed me to get fitter and having young guys around has helped.
“In 2007 it was more physical, but these days teams use their skills and speed to get around the field.”
Masoe said the feeling in the camp this season was similar to that in 2007.
“Everyone respects each other and you don’t own a position in there.
“The coaching and the team is really good.”
There is a good possibility he will not be the only Masoe to don the North Otago jersey.
On Monday, his son Richard (4) was still wearing his own North Otago jersey, having not taken it off since the game on Saturday, and told his father that he would get his own 100 games for the union.
He certainly has the pedigree.
Masoe’s wife Philippa is related to All Blacks Craig Green and Brodie Retallick, and has been physiotherapist for the side.
“We both love rugby and enjoy being part of it.”
North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson congratulated Masoe on the milestone.
To bring up 100 games was a “fantastic achievement”, Jackson said.