Talented first five-eighth has higher ambitions

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Casey, the prodigiously talented first five-eighth, is hoping a season with the Old Golds will help springboard him into higher honours next year.

He was a late inclusion in the North Otago squad for the Canadian tour, and has shown in the first two rounds of the Heartland Championship why coach Barry Stevens was keen to keep the Taieri playmaker on board.

“I was actually looking at having a bit of a break when Barry rang and asked if I wanted to go to Canada,” Casey told the Oamaru Mail.

“I had a hell of a time and got to know the boys. It’s been good.”

Casey (22) spent the New Zealand summer playing club rugby for Santboiana in Spain.

The link was former Manawatu coach Bruce Hemara, who contacted Casey out of the blue last year when he read about Casey smashing a Dunedin club rugby record with 300 points in a season.

“Bruce is the rugby director at a club in Barcelona, and he’d stumbled across a story about me on the internet.

“He asked me if I wanted to go over there, so I ended up spending nine months in Barcelona.

“It’s quite a similar level to Heartland rugby. I think the top four or five teams would be competitive here.”

Casey smiled when he revealed the cliched Spanish lifestyle – relaxing during the day, and not eating until late at night – had one significant effect.

“I’m 84kg but I came back about 90kg.”

He suffered an ankle injury in his last game in Spain, which hampered him on his return to Dunedin club rugby with the Taieri Eels.

Casey is hoping to use his season in North Otago to both get more experience at first five and, as others like Glenn Dickson have before him, press his claims for Otago selection next year.

“I actually only started playing 10 when I left school,” Casey said.

“I’m still learning the position, and this is a great opportunity to steer a team around.

“My goal is certainly to play for Otago in the next year or two.”

Casey is enjoying his fledgling combination with classy North Otago halfback Robbie Smith.

“He’s a top player and a good man. He’s got a great rugby brain, which makes my job easier.”