by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: July 31, 2017 http://gisborneherald.co.nz
Tihirau Victory Club made history at Ruatoria’s Whakarua Park on Saturday when they beat defending champions Hikurangi 24-21 in extra time to win the East Coast club title for the first time.
The right foot of first five-eighth Rapata Haerewa won the day.
The kick of his life
Before Tihirau Victory Club first five-eighth Rapata Haerewa struck the penalty goal that won the Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby grand final on Saturday, he felt two people with him on the sideline at Whakarua Park — his grandfather (TVC stalwart the late Arthur Waititi) and his unborn son.
Partner Ayla Evans, who made the trip with the man of the hour from Rotorua to Te Araroa on Friday night, is expecting the couple’s first child.
“My grandfather and my little boy were there when I took that kick,” said 23-year-old logging truck driver Haerewa.
“After I missed a penalty on the grandstand side I wanted to kick for touch but Frank Henderson and Verdon Bartlett told me I had to kick for goal.”
Verdon asked me ‘do you want to be the man?’ Frank told me to take in all of what the crowd’s saying and doing, and feed off it.”
The rest is now TVC folklore.
Rerekohu old boy Haerewa, who began his club career with TVC in 2012, played for Tokararangi from 2013-2016 and rejoined TVC in 2017, was understandably nervous as he lined the ball up.
“I was 50-50 overall for the day. We got the penalty, I heard the hooter, and then this happened.
“The ball stayed straight but it hung up and just squeezed its way through in the bottom corner.”
From her vantage point on the back of her mum’s Holden Colorado directly behind the Hikurangi goal-posts, Ayla wished for all the world the kick would go over.
“When it left the tee, I thought ‘heck, it’s not gonna make it’. I closed my eyes, opened them, and the ball just dropped over the bar.
“Then I started screaming for joy. I’m so glad I came.”
In the final minute of extra time, Haerewa slotted a penalty goal seven metres from the left touch and five metres outside the 22 to break a 21-all deadlock.
It gave Cape Runaway-based TVC their first Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield title since joining the competition in 1990.
“The win was for all the previous players, club stalwarts and families who laid the foundation for us just to play this game,” said TVC captain of the last five years, Moana Mato.
“It was our best performance of the season. Out of all the clubs it was Hikurangi who we wanted to face in the final. To beat them here was the ultimate test.
“We knew it was going to be close and so we trained to play extra-time,” said 46-year-old player-coach Whetu Haerewa, whose match-day 22 featured six forward reserves, including Morgan Wirepa jnr and Frank Henderson, and just one substitute back in RonPaul McRoberts.
“We were prepared to go that far.
“It was a good day for East Coast rugby — a solid performance by both teams. The win itself hasn’t sunk in because winning the final wasn’t the be-all and end-all. The highlight of the season was having all the parents engage with their kids at trainings and on Saturdays — that connection, those interpersonal relationships. This result was just the icing on the cake.”
In fine conditions, one of the most dramatic finals in the history of club rugby on the Coast was played out before a large and vocal crowd.
TVC centre and player of the day Ethan Bartlett opened the scoring with a try in the fifth minute. From the Hikurangi 22-metre line, fullback Verdon Bartlett broke a tackle, stepped off his left foot, then passed to his younger brother to finish. Haerewa converted.
Hikurangi struck back in the 12th minute. Fullback Kris Palmer, who had come within inches of scoring moments before, crossed in the right corner for his 14th try of the season.
He was unable to convert and the visitors went to the break 7-5 ahead.
Ten minutes into the second half, Palmer struck a 40m penalty to give his side an 8-7 lead.
It was shortlived.
From a ruck, TVC’s forwards surged close to the Hikurangi line and replacement lock Kawana Waititi got the ball down just to the left of the posts, and Haerewa converted (14-8).
Palmer replied with two penalty kicks to tie the game 14-apiece and it went to two 10-minute periods of extra time
TVC regained the lead when Ethan Bartlett intercepted and Haerewa converted to give his side a 21-14 lead at the end of the first period.
Ngati Porou East Coast 108-game warrior Charlie Harrison replied with a try, which Palmer converted to level it 21-all.
The spectators were standing to a man when Haerewa missed a penalty from the grandstand touchline just outside the Hikurangi 22 in the 98th minute.
Two minutes later, referee Chris Wanoa penalised Hikurangi’s Trent Proffit for not releasing the ball in a ruck.
Timekeeper Daryl Goldsmith sounded the horn to signify the end of the second period of extra time.
Haerewa, under immense pressure, knocked the ball over and the hundreds of fans who thought that was it streamed on to the field.
But there was one last twist in the tail.
Referee Wanoa allowed Hikurangi to restart. Palmer opted for the short drop-out from halfway, McRoberts caught the ball and his gentle line-kick ended an incredible game.
“The intensity of the game was the best it’s been all season and that was definitely the biggest crowd there’s been at any game this season,” said Hikurangi co-coach Doone Harrison.
“The game had everything — a battle up front, hard tackling, an intercept try. Both sets of forwards cancelled each other out. In the end it came down to goal-kicking.”
The home team’s player of the day was co-captain Te Rangi Matanuku Parata, who, with locking partner Tapui Blane, was outstanding at lineout time.
Palmer led all scorers in the 2017 competition with 166 points, including 30 conversions and 12 penalties.
“That was a hard game of East Coast rugby and hats off to the union for the hard work they put into the park,” said Hikurangi co-captain Rhys Walker. “The ground was the best it’s been in the last six weeks.
“Ma (Parata) and Kris (Palmer) were outstanding for us. TVC’s pack has been strong all year and stepped it up even more today.
“I’d also like to thank our fans. They’re always there; they’re awesome for us, win or lose. Our club’s what keeps us strong. It’s not all about the team.”
TVC chairman Winston Waititi paid tribute to the team, the union and those who had come before them.
“I think our elders would be pleased — ecstatic— to not just see the boys win today but our revival as a club.
“Tihirau Victory Club was formed by the elders of Cape Runaway and Raukokore after the Second World War to provide social contact and sport for returned servicemen—- as a living memorial.
“The club went into recess in the mid-50s with the migration of whole families to urban areas. The workforce and sports teams were affected by it, but in 1990 there was an influx of young people here and there was a need for them to be engaged and active.
“We never doubted that the East Coast Rugby Union would allow our team to join them, and so they did. They’ve been right behind us ever since. The sporting base of rugby, netball, tennis, touch, softball and so on, our community platform, is broadening again.”
Wanoa’s rapport with Walker and Mato deserves a special mention.
He and assistant referees Richard Tuhaka and Harawira Matahiki facilitated an unforgettable game with patience and good humour, even as each try from halftime had overjoyed fans flock to the players.