By the reaction of the North Harbour rugby side, they truly wanted to open the season well. High profile player Tevita Li was especially delighted. And while a 19-17 win was a tight result, it places Harbour Rugby on target to establish themselves in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.
Wet conditions; as seen in this highlights video, shows that it was not an easy opening fixture. The opposition were the same team whom Harbour beat for the Championship title in 2016. You would imagine Otago were after revenge, and that explains the second half comeback. But gladly for head coach Tom Coventry and star winger Tevita Li, it came too late to upset the home side.
Harbour Win Early to Establish Their Place in Mitre 10 Cup Premiership
In recent seasons, when others thought of Harbour, they might think more of past players and teams. But since the 2016 result, many are aware of the lineup. And that includes the 22 year old Li.
Known for his speed and elusive return of the ball, he is quickly earning the name of ‘Mr Excitement’.
He was relieved to get the win, knowing how important this step would put Harbour rugby on target for their high-hopes in 2017. He told Last Word on Rugby “Just trying to execute with our plans, stick to the systems and I’ve got good players inside me, like Matt Vaega. But credit to our team, we were good in that first half, but we lapsed in the second half.
“We’ll take it, and bank the points and learn from our mistakes.”
Learning is a key tool, and Tevita Li and head coach Tom Coventry will need to embrace that but first, celebrate. Definitely, take time enjoy the moment. With Harbour rugby on target, teams need to harness the confidence. And in the Mitre 10 Cup, the nine week competition leaves little time for celebration.
Step One Complete: Harbour Rugby on Target
Tom Coventry spoke pre-game of the desire for his squad to gain respect. That was reinforced by Li. “We’re not done. We’re trying to change people’s perspective of us, and I think this is a good start.”
That team mantra is an in-direct view of how Harbour are perceived nationally. By their promotion up to the Premiership, they now face the top echelon of sides. And being the new team in the upper-tier of the Mitre 10 Cup, some might target Harbour as a ‘weak link’.
“We are in the top league. The Premiership gives you a crack at the top teams. Against the Canterbury team, who have held on to it for just about forever! Going from the Championship to the Premiership, comes with a little bit more expectation–and pressure,” was the judgement of Coventry.
“And there are cross-over games [between the two competitions] and Harbour were the team that was chosen the most. Everyone get’s to pick, and we were picked the most. So we’ve still got work to do on getting the rugby public’s respect.”
The Harbour region wants to build on it’s credibility. After 30 years, some still call them Auckland Rugby’s ‘little brother’. The players want to gain more respect, as well as continue to perform well in the highly competitive competition.
Tevita Li Continues His Rugby Development
For the crowd, he truly was Mr Excitement. Often, when the ball landed in his hands, the reaction was one of expectation. From past endeavors–including the Under 20 World Championship in 2015 (see below). From those early days, his size and speed have been his assets.
In the opening half, many half chances led to nothing. Finally, the bounce went Li’s way. He drove up the touchline. With this territory gain, a slick midfield move from Bryn Gatland allowed Shaun Stevenson to score.
Those moments may not always come off, but Li is known for holding the attention of both fans, and defenders. He told LWOR that “there is a lot of exciting players in our backline, and I’m just grateful to be selected”.
He knows that even at just 22, he has played a lot of footy. His four seasons with Harbour, two with the Blues and this year fitting into the Highlanders Super Rugby franchise; means that others look up to him as a senior figure. Success at Schoolboy, Under 20 and then Mitre 10 Championship level, all aide his personal development.
“Every time you find the first game is the hardest. Before last year, we hadn’t won those games in a really long time, and we achieved a lot last year. We wanted that as a group to come back well today, and winning was a good way to begin.”
Step Two: Continue to Grow as a Team
The main objective is to reach the Premiership final, and more. For this team to achieve that, small steps must be taken. Step One: Otago.
Step Two: Southland. And with this next match being an away fixture, that will require a good team attitude and culture. Tom Coventry, and co-captains James Parsons and Matt Duffie will aim to harness the energy from Week One. They will do that by utilizing local talent like Bryn Hall and Murphy Taramai (see picture below). Plus the re-signing of Chris Smylie, and new imports Chris Eaves and Jarrad Hoeata.
The mix of talent is one which appears to hold many of the important factors required to be successful, that all winning teams must include. A balance of youth and experience. Add in the desire to perform for themselves, and to impress others, and the combination looks strong.
The early matches will be small steps toward a bigger goal. And even though they are in the same stage of the season as every side involved in the Mitre 10 Cup, getting off to the right start will see Harbour rugby on target to build that respect the side believes they deserve.
After Thursday night, step one of their journey is complete.
Harbour 19 – Try: Shaun Stevenson; Conversion: Bryn Gatland; Penalty: Gatland (4)
Otago 17 – Tries: Jonathan Ruru, Mitchell Scott; Cons: Josh Ioane (2); Penalty: Ioane.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images