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Senior Rugby – Ratana feature

By Jared Smith

The young men have been called home to the Pā, and the hunt is on.

In this post Covid-19 environment for local rugby, one of the strong redemption stories emerging is the form of a brand-new, and yet also quite familiar Harvey Round Motors Ratana – currently unbeaten in Tasman Tanning Senior and the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield holders.

Ratana attracted a few negative headlines in the past two years as the once-proud Premier team was struggling against the stronger clubs – a match in Marton saw three players sinbinned for no mouthguards, their head coach departed with three games remaining last year, and a 100-point loss in Waverley proved especially tough to stomach.

Needing to rebuild not only their roster but their team culture, Ratana brought back club legend and Wanganui representative stalwart Leon Mason as head coach, and while some clubs in Premier and Senior have struggled to fill out their lineups as a result of the big delay from the Covid shutdown, the opposite has occurred in the Pa.

Manager and former coach Johnathon Kaa said they currently have 40 players, only four of whom were in the 2019 squad.

“A fair chunk have to miss out every week. We got a lot of forwards.

“We’ve got a lot of youth in the engine room, not so much experience where we can drive how we used to do it, but I think it’s a good [forwards and backs] balance, actually.”

Helping that balance is the return home to two prodigal sons in former Steelform Wanganui players Kane Tamou (pictured right) and Cody Hemi – Tamou part of the 2015-16 Meads Cup winning squads, while Hemi played an important role in the 2017 Meads Cup-winning campaign while still at Whanganui Collegiate.

Both have plied their craft outside the district – Tamou winning the 2018 Lochore Cup with Horowhenua-Kapiti, while Hemi represented the Manawatu Evergreens before also switching to the Levin union.

As Ratana got permission from the WRFU for the club to have Heartland-calibre players in the Senior competition, the two young men were only too happy to return to their whanau.

“There was no Heartland team, so they thought ‘we’ll just come home and play’,” said Kaa.

And Ratana have not had the easiest opponents in Senior to start their campaign – the Rangitikei derby with Speirs Food Marton was won 20-7, and then the Challenge Shield was lifted off another one-team club in Utiku Old Boys, 48-17.

After the bye week, Ratana defeated 2019 Senior champions Bennett’s Taihape 39-15 in a match for both the Challenge Shield and the prestigious Whenuaroa Shield, which was introduced between the clubs in 2018.

“We thought it was just for Premier, but they said it was up to whoever holds it,” said Kaa.

“Going back to Senior was an eye opener for us, just the boys back on a winning edge.

“At the moment, we’re just taking it game by game, but things are looking good at the moment.”

“Ultimately, we’d like to get back into Premier.”

That process will depend on how the club’s position after this Covid-effected year, with Kaa feeling it might be a year or two before their roster is solidified.

For now, they have another tough test this Saturday with an away match with perennial Senior powerhouses and 2019 Division 3 champions Kelso Hunterville, kickoff at 2pm.