- By Steven White.
- Photos by Chainsaw Photos.
Jerome Vaai is contributing towards the next generation of Norths players. “I’ve got six kids and one on the way, due in a couple of weeks.”
All so far have played rugby for the Norths Juniors, just like Jerome did before he left for his secondary schooling at Rongotai College in the early 2000s and returning to start his senior career.
“I have got five girls and one boy at the moment, and I am expecting my other boy soon. That is half the reason I am about to have seven kids,” he joked. “I have been hanging for another boy!”
During the week, he is also busy with his work as a concreting contractor, his work crew including former OBU loose forward Andrew McWhirter and current Paremata-Plimmerton prop Peni Tapau.
After family, rugby is Vaai’s second love, and On Saturday he will run out on to Jerry Collins Stadium against Marist St Pat’s to play his 100th Premier match.
It’s an achievement and honour a long time coming, because of the aforementioned family and work commitments and spells playing elsewhere, but one that is richly deserving.
“It means everything to me,” said Vaai. “I am Porirua born and bred and live in the area at Ascot Park and started playing for Norths for the first time in the U13 Open team.”
“All the history that comes with it and being generational. My dad never played for Norths or Porirua or Titahi Bay, but he introduced me to the club, so I am happy to reach the milestone for my family as well as myself.”
It all started for Vaai in the Norths senior club in 2008, the year that Norths drew 10-10 with MSP in the Jubilee Cup final at a freezing Wellington Stadium.
“That was a busy year for me, I made my Norths debut, got married and had my first baby.”
“I played every grade that year, starting with the U19s, then Colts and then one day we were at the same ground as the top team but the Reserve team wasn’t there and I got called into cover to make my Premier debut. That was against Poneke, and I came off the bench and scored a try in that game.”
He spent the next couple of seasons predominantly in the Norths second team, but became a main Premier squad member in 2012 when Ross Bond and Okasene Moananu were the coaches.
That was the year he played for the Horowhenua-Kapiti team in the Heartland Championship. The following two seasons were spent in Tasman playing for Waimea Old Boys. “We won back-to-back championships when I was there, although we had a stacked team with players such as James Lowe, Marty Banks and Billy Guyton.”
He played a second Heartland season for Buller. “I was part of their 2014 team that went through the season undefeated until the final. I scored a try in the final, but we lost [29-22] to Mid Canterbury.”
From there he moved to Sydney and joined the Manly Marlins in the Shute Shield.
“We went on and lost that final by a dropped kick.”
While in Australia he played for the NSW Country Eagles NRC team, who were coached by the current Waratahs coach Darren Coleman.
He came home and re-joined Norths in 2017, where he has been ever since.
He was a key player alternating between loosehead and tighthead prop in successful seasons for Norths in 2018 and 2019, that saw them win the 2018 Swindale Shield, make the final of the Jubilee Cup in 2018 and then win the final in 2019.
Winning the Jubilee Cup in 2019 is a career highlight.
“Winning that Jubilee Cup final was special for me. It was the first winning team that I felt like I was really part of.
“I was at Norths in 2010 [and 2008] but only played a few games during that season. Nor was I really part of the 2011 team that lost the final to Ories.
“I played most games in 2019 and I really felt like I earnt it.”
“Having the Norths community there supporting us and having my family and my girls there to watch, who all played for the Norths Juniors, was special.”
Norths beat Wainuiomata 25-16 in the decider to win that title.
Asked to nominate a handful of respected players who he has played with and against he said all his current and former and teammates at Norths are of a high calibre and good players on and off the field.
“But to single out one player, that’s our hooker Ethan Robinson-Mate, who played his 100th against Tawa last year. We were supposed to play that together, but I had a few more sabbaticals than he did last year so he beat me to it.
“I love playing with Ethan and have played with him throughout my Norths career and have the upmost respect for him.”
In other clubs, Jonathon Fuimaono [OBU] is a legend. “He stole two Jubilee Cups away from me!”
“In the 2018 Jubilee Cup final that we lost to OBU, I dyed my hair blue on the morning of that match, and it is all over his Jubilee Cup-winning top, so I like to say I had the last laugh in that one.”
As a Rongotai College old boy, another combatant to mention is an Ories stalwart – Whetu Henry.
“Whetu helped me fall in love with propping.
“My old man was my coach in the Rongotai College First XV, so you will forever hear his voice on the Ories sideline every time I play there.”
Vaai himself describes himself as a versatile front rower, rather than a specialist. Hence he can and does regularly switch between loosehead and tighthead prop, and can also play hooker.
He reserves the last word for his club mates at Norths.
Current Premier manager Matt Rountree and former manager Mike Parker are two people who have been there throughout his career.
“I have nothing but love and respect for the whole of Norths.”
Norths versus Marist St Pat’s this coming Saturday at Jerry Collins Stadium at 2.45pm for the Maurice Standish Cup.