The blessing in disguise: Covid delay means Waitokia’s a Butcher’s Boy

By Jared Smith

Are you ready for some good news out this Delta variant mess postponing the rugby?

 Steelform Whanganui gets their former NZ Heartland Player of the Year home.

Any concerns about depth in the outside backs stock has been removed by the return of Te Rangatira Waitokia, the former NZ Sevens representative, Manawatu Turbos regular, Hurricanes Development standout and the 2016 Meads Cup winner with Whanganui.

The 25-year-old winger/fullback had departed these shores in February to join up with the Rugby ATL club in Atlanta to play the 2021 Major League Rugby season.

They finished runners-up in the 12-team competition to LA Giltinis, beaten 31-17 in the August 1 final, as former Wallaby Matt Giteau kicked the California club to victory.

A former NZ Universities representative, Waitokia then looked to return home for a bit of offseason study, but because of his late arrival for the original pre-outbreak start of the NPC season, was informed by the Manawatu Rugby Union he could not be offered a fulltime contract – at most being part of their wider development group.

Cue Whanganui coach Jason Caskey and backs coach Jason Hamlin getting in contact with their former charge.

“We were just able to get in touch online, to see what his plans were,” said Hamlin.

“We simply asked the question. Local player, more than keen to help out.

“We could give him some rugby; his plans are to go back to America for his [professional] competition.”

Required to quarantine for two weeks, the delayed start to the Bunnings Heartland campaign, which kicks off under Level 2 conditions this Saturday, also proved a blessing in disguise as Waitokia was able to join Whanganui last week for their resumption of training.

“Quite fortuitous for us, otherwise we wouldn’t have had him till Week 4,” said Hamlin.

A Cullinane College old boy, Waitokia returns to the Whanganui squad he starred for in 2016 as a 19-year-old bolter out of the Whanganui Metro team – having come back that year from Palmerston North for work.

A key player for the “Heartland Invincibles”, he would score 12 tries in 11 games, earning a NZ Heartland XV jersey and later being named Player of the Year at the NZ Rugby Awards.

Manawatu couldn’t wait to get him back and Waitokia had a Rookie of the Year 2017 season with the Turbos, while scoring tries for the Hurricanes Development squad and eventually working his way into the NZ Sevens squad in 2019.

Regarding his second stint in Whanganui colours, Hamlin said Waitokia followed instructions in 2016, but was now the rugged professional veteran whose on-field vision and communication skills were as valuable as his natural sidestep.

“His words hold a lot more weight.

“The rugby he’s played and the experience he’s gained just shines through.”

It’s ironic Waitokia’s return game will be against Poverty Bay, as it was this opponent in the Heartland’s fifth round on September 2016 where the youngster really cemented his name as a star of the future.

Waitokia scored four tries in Gisborne, which included beating former 19-test All Black and then Poverty Bay development officer Rico Gear absolutely cold from a set play off the lineout.

“He just came off his wing and left him, and we thought, ‘what the Lord?’ I remember that very well,” said Hamlin.