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Hosea helping Ngāti Porou East Coast into Gear

  • By Adam Julian

This article first appeared on NZR channels and has been re-posted and updated with permission.

Ngāti Porou East Coast hasn’t competed for a trophy in the Heartland Championship since their miraculous victory against Whanganui in the 2012 Meads Cup final.

This Saturday the Coast hosts Mid Canterbury in the Lochore Cup final after defeating Horowhenua-Kāpiti 37-30 in the semi-final at the Levin Domain last week. Sam Parkes put in a man-of-the-match performance in scoring three tries at halfback – just the ninth East Coast player to achieve the feat and the first since Stefan Destounis achieved the feat on debut in 2016. The first was Walter Peachy against Bush in 1954.

Inexplicably between 2013 and 2021 Ngāti Porou East Coast lost 54 consecutive games. There were 2,975 days separating their 22-18 victory over Poverty Bay and their next success, a 50-26 win over Buller in 2021.

The next worst losing streak in a similar time frame was Southland who lost 27 consecutive games from 2016 to 2019.

Since the Buller breakthrough, Ngāti Porou East Coast have won seven Heartland Championship matches. A Centenary attracted All Black Ma’a Nonu, Samoan international Faifili Levave, and All Black Sevens gun Ngarohi McGarvey-Black. Unsurprisingly successes followed against Poverty Bay (31-28) and Wairarapa Bush (34-19).

In 2022 Ngāti Porou East Coast, absent of the added star power, won four or more matches, something they’ve only achieved six times since 1987

Hosea Gear was a champion player. Capped 14 times on the wing for the All Blacks, he scored 111 first class tries. In 2010 he won the Tom French Cup as Māori player of the year after winning a gold medal in sevens at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

A product of Gisborne Boys’ High School, Gear has been coaching Ngāti Porou East Coast since 2020. What compelled him to join a team with such a mediocre record?

“The only subject I really liked at school was PE so when I retired in 2018, I decided coaching would be a good way to stay involved in the game,” Gear responded.

“I took on a French third division side and did a coaching course I really enjoyed. When I left Gisborne 18 years ago, I vowed to return. I wanted to give back to the community, open pathways for kids with the same ambition as me. I guess I’ve come full circle.”

Gear was living on the Sunshine Coast in 2020. Because of Covid restrictions he couldn’t get back to New Zealand to physically mentor the team, so he dictated instructions over Zoom.

“That was extremely challenging, the internet connection up the coast is not too flash,” Gear laughed.

“How it worked is I’d set up a plan and share that with the coaches on the ground who’d implement it while I watched on a live stream and then feedback later with the players.

“I learnt a lot about the delivery of content and messages. We were laying small foundations for what was to come.

“The drop off after 2012 happened because we had a lot of players from outside the region leave and take everything with them. That’s’ not a new problem in this area but we allowed ourselves to get caught in a rut. We know how legendary the aftermath is here and it was like the players were just proud to wear the jersey and wait for the feed.

“We’ve had to change mindsets, lifestyles, and attitudes to improve culture. We often reference the C company of the Māori Battalion. A lot of the boys have family connections with that, and we look to their sacrifices and achievements for inspiration.”

Assembling the team in one place is a logistical nightmare. Jorian Tangaere, Perrin Manuel, Carlos Kemp, Tipene Meihana and Morgan Poi live four hours away from Ruatoria in the Hawke’s Bay. Another player resides in Opotiki while Te Manu Herewini drives five hours one way to stay involved.

Josh Coffin (son of former All Black Phil Coffin) dislocated his shoulder in pre-season. Boston Hunt was recruited from Porirua to replace the lock, flying in from the capital when work permits. Former Māori All Black Joe Royal is another import from Auckland employed to prop up the scrum

“We don’t have a permanent training base so I will try to name the team for Saturday on Monday, so I know who’s available to train,” Gear said.

Some players attend two practices a week, others I must balance. What I can tell you is that we don’t have a full squad run until the day of the game and we’ve had training in Gisborne, Ruatoria and Tokomaru Bay this season. Where we train depends on which venue most of the squad are close to.”

The meticulous planning has reaped dividends. In their annual Queen’s [King’s] Birthday match against Poverty Bay, Ngāti Porou East Coast was well beaten 46-12. On September 10 they flipped that result 12-10 to win the Bill Osborne Taonga for the first time, successfully defending the prize against West Coast (29-27) the following Saturday.

Wins were also achieved against Wairarapa Bush (20-16) and Mid Canterbury (36-34).

“When I started coaching it was so special to get just a win. Now the boys believe they can compete with anyone.

“There have been several players who’ve improved out of site, but first-five Carlos Kemp has been special. He’s only 19 out of the Hawke’s Bay Academy. He’s come on in leaps and bounds and driven the team around the field all season. He’s a brilliant goal kicker with a great skill set and he takes constructive criticism well.”

Boston Hunt renewed resolve within the team. The youngster from Wellington won the Jim Brown Medal as man of the match in Norths 23-20 win over Petone in the Jubilee Cup final. He is now a first-class player after being told by a doctor in 2017 he’d never play again following a broken leg.

“Playing under Hosea has been an amazing opportunity and eye opener. He brings a new level of professionalism and passion towards the game and gives it back to the Iwi. I would love to lace up the boots and play alongside him one day,” Hunt said.

Gear played 58 games for Wellington and scored 36 tries. In 2008 he helped the Lions win the Ranfurly Shield for the first time since 1982 when they beat Auckland 27-0 at Eden Park. Gear was delighted to see Wellington claim the Log o’ Wood off Hawke’s Bay this year.

“That was an amazing win. The boys dug deep and held their line at the end.

“I know what a big deal it will be to win the Shield. We held it for the summer and lost it to Canterbury the next season. It was a big deal in the community. We got out a lot and it meant a heap.

“I’m thrilled for Tamati Ellison. He’s a great mate of mine and we often converse about coaching. Tamati has been a successful coach because he carries a lot of mana. He’s respected without even having to say anything. He’s very smart and detailed. We used to joke in the Lions that he was too detailed.”

Note: Hosea made two appearances himself in 2021. His All Black brother Rico Gear made a single appearance too.

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