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Harkin and OBU working hard for title defence

For the most part, defending Swindale Shield champions OBU are fielding a new-look side in 2022, following a number of retirements or players moving on to other challenges.

Callum Harkin remains as a familiar face and he’s excited about the composition of the new Billy Goats.

“There are a lot of new guys but they bring a whole new energy. They are young-guns ready to go and it rubs off us players who have been there before,” Harkin told the Huddy Hui on Wednesday night.

“We have still got Te Wehi Wright. Our captain this year Kyle Preston is another who leads with his actions. We have young guys like Dominic Ropeti who are coming through,” Harkin added.

On Saturday it will be nine days between matches for the Billy Goats, having beaten Avalon 39-13 under lights last start and Harkin was a leading player in that win.

“We started slow and made some errors, but we grew into the game, “said Harkin. “Avalon are one of those teams where they will throw everything at you but we were able to hold them out and prosper later in the game.”

Harkin played fullback against Avalon, but is just as adept playing first and second-five – after starting his career at halfback at St Pat’s Silverstream and then the Wellington Axemen in 2017 and 2018.

“Second five is not a position I want to spend too much time in as I am not exactly a Ma’a Nonu-esque player, but whether I find myself back at 10 or 15 we will see,” he mused.

Harkin gets a kick away against Avalon last Thursday night. Photo: Hugh Pretorius. 

Still a young man, Harkin is now in his sixth season of Wellington club rugby, and also spent a northern hemisphere season in Ireland at the Ulster Academy.

“I was only 17 or 18 when I went over to Ireland and that was an amazing experience.

“The game is different over there, it is a lot more set-piece structured, they put so much emphasis on the set-piece and how they are going to attack from that.

“Outside of rugby it was even better, great nightlife and people. The friends I made over there I am still in contact with regularly.”
Who were some of the prominent rugby personalities Harkin met at Ulster?

“I had a bit to do with Ruan Pienaar [former Springbok] and also Charles Piutau and Christian Leali’ifano, and Sean Reidy who was a flanker originally out of New Zealand. The Academy trained alongside the senior squad most days, so we were rubbing shoulders a lot with the top guys.

“Their academies are more time consuming than our ones here in New Zealand, it was pretty full on.”

The time in Ireland helped fast-track his game, making the Wellington Lions squad two years in succession in 2018 and 2019 – but, cruelly, a broken leg set him back on the field and tested his resolve as well off it.

“It has been spoken a bit these past few years that the mental fitness needs to be just as important as the physical fitness, and I completely agree,” he reflected.

“That is a massive part of the game. You go from being in a position where you are playing a pre-season match for the Hurricanes [against the Crusaders in Levin in 2019] and then you get injured, and you spend a lot of time away and you second guess yourself a bit.

“That can lead to injury itself, but I think I am the fittest I have been since that broken leg. I have had a good run with the Wellington Development team the back end of last year, and was in brief talks with a new team over in Dallas but never followed through on that as they were battling with Covid and Texas already has two other teams so they withdrew.

“Professional rugby is not off the cards – it has just taken a back seat at present.”

Which means that he could have a good run with OBU this Wellington club rugby season.

Action during the rugby match played between Wellington Centurions v Whanganui Butcher Boys, played at Porirua Park, Tawa, Wellington, New Zealand, 14 August 2021.  Final score 19-12 to Wellington Centurions.

Playing for the Wellington Development Centurions team last year. PHOTO: Stewart Baird.

OBU won the Jubilee Cup final in his first full year with them in 2020.

“My dad played for them when they were called Harlequins, so I was always looking to link up with them. “With guys like Jonathon Fuiamoano, it was a special year. The way he can lead a team with such little words, but such loud actions is the reason why people follow people like him.”

On the burst for OBU in the 2020 Jubilee Cup final. PHOTO: Andy McArthur.

Prior to the Axemen and now OBU, Harkin has strong roots at Eastbourne.

“That place raised me, and I hold the place dear to my heart, spending the best part of seven or eight years playing my junior footy for them. As a junior we went seven years unbeaten – Eastbourne was the team to beat in the junior grades!”

OBU return home to Nairnville Park this Saturday to host the Upper Hutt Rams, who beat Marist St Pat’s last weekend. Kick-off is at 2.45pm.

Watch this week’s Huddy Hui at the link below: 

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