The Norths pack celebrates a try against Petone earlier this season in the Swindale Shield. Petone won 30-20. They meet on Jerry Collins stadium this Saturday in the Jubilee Cup final.
- By Adam Julian
Aiden Cains retired from Premier rugby in 2016. The hooker was a centurion for Norths – scoring a try in a 2010 Jubilee Cup final win against Poneke. He was good enough to represent Wellington B and Horowhenua-Kapiti in the Heartland Championship.
Fast forward to April 30, 2022. Two nights before Norths travelled to the Polo Ground to face Oriental-Rongotai in Round 5 of the Swindale Shield he received a phone call from Norths Premier Reserves coach pleading him to play for the seconds.
Cains responded, “Call me on Old Timers’ Day bro.”
A fortnight later Norths hosted fierce rivals Tawa on Old Timers’ Day. The phone rang again. This time it was the Premiers. Cains trained Thursday night and played off the bench in a 36-24 win against the defending Jubilee Cup champions.
The date was May 14, Norths recording the second of what would be seven consecutive wins – a run that elevated their status from Hardham Cup certainties to Jubilee Cup contenders. Aside from ego, why did Cains play?
“What happened? Ethan Robinson-Mate missed several weeks due to extended marriage celebrations. We tried a couple of props at hooker and that didn’t really work either so I had no choice but to play,” Cains explained.
“I think the final this weekend is a bridge too far, but you never know.”
Prior to one match off the bench this season, Cains’ last match as a player was in 2016, against Petone, his old side and the club Norths meets in Saturday’s Jubilee Cup final.
Norths was in a shambles prior to the start of the Swindale Shield on April 2. There was a mass migration of players and coaches to Paremata-Plimmerton, three pre-season fixtures were cancelled, and March practices sometimes attracted as little as six players across the three open-weight teams.
Following the birth of his third daughter, Cains was keen to coach the Colts. The Colts didn’t happen so he was summoned to assist the Premier forwards. His particular focus would later become set-piece and tackles.
A pre-season hit-out against Marist St Pat’s attracted encouraging enough numbers, ironically too many for a “decent hit-out.” Leading Norths players had played less than a half of rugby before their first round Swindale Shield clash against Hutt Old Boys Marist. Furthermore, captain Luca Rees was suspended for four weeks!
“Hutt was the better side that day which was little surprise,” Cains recalled.
“In the first five weeks we lost four games which sounds awful, but there were glimpses of hope.
“We beat Johnsonville which was pretty grim, but at least we were on the board.
“Against Poneke, a game I actually commentated on, we missed a kick close to fulltime to win it.
“We liked the way we matched up against Petone, but errors cost us. Ories whipped us.”
A line in the sand was drawn before Norths played the Upper Hutt Rams at Maidstone Park. Collectively Norths resolved they would have to win every game to achieve their goal of being a top four Swindale Shield side. The rhetoric of desperation almost fell on deaf ears.
“We had to knock over a decent team, and we got early momentum. Then it went pear-shaped. Our lock got two yellow cards and their fullback knocked over a conversion from the sideline which meant we were down by two tries with bugger all time left.
“We got a bit of a freakish try and then our forwards came together and really got stuck in. We scored underneath the biggest goalposts in Wellington. When the referee went to both touchlines I thought, ‘here we go.’”
A Boston Hunt try, converted by Dale Sabbagh, gave Norths a 31-30 win. In the next six games Norths scored 364 points. Discarded Hurricanes first-five Jackson Garden-Bachop contributed 97 points in five of those games.
The impetus of young forwards like Bradley Crichton and experienced backs like Jackson Garden-Bachop contributed to a turnaround and heady charge to this weekend’s Jubilee Cup final.
“We’re a real momentum team, give us a sniff and we’ll take a mile. There were a couple of close ones in that run. We only beat OBU by a couple of points,” Cains recalled.
Norths finished fourth in the Swindale Shield meaning they achieved a ‘second life’ in the playoffs. Against first-round champions Petone they succumbed 42-28. Cains complained some of the “desperation had gone.”
The return of All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara, Māori All Black Connor Garden-Bachop and Wellington Lions captain Du’ Plessis Kirifi reinvigorated the roster.
MSP (35-29) and Hutt Old Boys’ Marist (38-25) have been toppled in successive weeks. Norths into the Jubilee Cup final against Petone, a club Cains played for in 2012.
“Petone is a well-drilled side. They’ve got key experience in good positions and a couple of exceptional kids in Riley Higgins and Peter Lakai. It will be a close game.
“Regardless of the outcome I’m really proud of the resilience our boys have shown this season. Sure it’s great to have the likes of TJ and Jackson for the finals but this season has been a huge effort by a whole lot of people. One as important as the next.”
Norths play Petone at 3.00pm on Saturday at Jerry Collins Stadium in the 2022 Jubilee Cup final.
North’s Management Staff
- Grainger Heikell
- Richard Higgins
- Thomas Perenara
- Katsu Takeuchi
- Aiden Cains
Manager & Logistics
- Matt Rountree
- Lawrence Yarrall and Andrew Maligi
Wellington Lions captain Du Plessis Kirifi has been an addition to the Norths line-up since Super Rugby finished.