Riley Higgins running away to score one of his two tries against Auckland in last seasons’s NPC semi-final win. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures.
- By Steven White
Riley Higgins had a season to remember in 2022, and he is just getting started.
The former St Pat’s Silverstream and current Petone midfielder joins the Hurricanes this year on a fulltime contract for the first time after making his debut in one match and in the process becoming the team’s youngest back to take the field aged 19 year and 240 days.
Higgins’ rugby highlights reel last year saw him become a Swindale Shield winner and Jubilee Cup finalist with Petone, starting midfielder for the NZ U20s, Ranfurly Shield holder and NPC title champion with Wellington and capped Hurricane in that match against the Fijian Drua in May.
“Playing for the Hurricanes for the first time was a pretty special moment for me”, said Higgins, “it was Mother’s Day as well and I was able to have my mum’s name on my jersey. Everyone was allowed to have their partner’s or mum’s name on their jersey and I chose her name.”
Higgins was training fulltime with the Hurricanes last year on a development contract. “It was pretty much a case of training each day as part of the team but not looking to play. But there were a few injuries and some Covid around, so I got called in for that match.”
He came off the bench late in the 67-5 win and promptly returned to the sideline having received his first yellow card for a tackling misdemeanour.
He joined a select group of players to make their Hurricanes debut before representing their province in NPC rugby.
After scoring 21 tries in 15 games for Petone in club rugby, including scoring two tries in the 20-23 Jubilee Cup final loss to Northern United, that moment soon came.
Higgins made his Lions debut against Bay of Plenty in early August, scoring two tries in a 37-35 win – the first Wellington player to score a brace on debut since Marist St Pat’s midfielder Tajhon Mailata in 2010.
He ran water in Wellington’s 19-12 Ranfurly Shield win over his older brother Keinan’s Hawke’s Bay side but retuned to be Player of the Match against Waikato in their first defence and was a regular starter for the remainder of the season. He scored another two tries in an imperial 54-19 win over Auckland in the semi-final before helping the Lions to a 26-18 win over Canterbury in the final.
“The obvious highlight there is winning those matches and trophies, but finding a bit of confidence in myself throughout the year is important for me personally. If I can keep progressing and learning from that it will be the biggest takeaway.”
“It was also awesome to be part of Petone’s team last year. Although Pete [Lakai] and I missed a few games with U20s commitments and was great to watch and follow games that we weren’t part of. Particularly the McBain Shield win over Hutt Old Boys Marist. We were with the Hurricanes U20s and coach Eugene Smith [former 200-game hooker for Petone] was keeping us updated!”
Following the remainder of the club and the Lions season that followed, Higgins has a good break, which included a well-deserved trip to Fiji for some R and R, some travelling around the North Island and some time spent with family.
He also had a date with the scalpel.
“After returning from Fiji after the NPC I had some minor clean-up surgery on my shoulder that was giving me a bit of grief during the latter part of the season. I got an MRI on it and found there was some extra bone there had been grown randomly, so I got that cut out.”
“I’m on managed minutes to start the year, but I’m looking forward to getting back to full fitness and playing competitive rugby again after the summer break.”
The Hurricanes played the Blues in Auckland this past Saturday in their first pre-season fixture then it’s action alley in Levin next Friday evening for their second and final pre-season contest against the Crusaders.
Following that, the Hurricanes play three of their first four competition games against Australian opposition, teams that Higgins has yet to encounter in his brief career thus far.
“I went to Australia on a rugby trip in year 10 at St Pat’s Silverstream and also played against Australia last year on the Sunshine Coast for the New Zealand U20s.”
There are some positions where the Hurricanes might struggle this year, but midfield shouldn’t be one of them.
Recent reports reveal that Francis Douglas Memorial College product Jordie Barrett will be playing second-five for the Hurricanes this season. But the incumbent All Black will also be on restricted minutes.
That leaves the likes of former Scots College lad Peter Umaga-Jensen, St Pat’s Town Alumni Billy Proctor, Higgins and Waikato’s Bailyn Sullivan as the contracted midfielders in the squad this year.
Higgins is predominantly a second five but has also played centre but rarely on the wing. “I played wing once and that was for St Pat’s Silverstream in year 11 in the final against St Pat’s Town, and that was the one of three First XV finals I was involved in that we won.”
He enjoys having talent to burn outside him. “It’s pretty fun having these guys around me, Salesi Rayasi being a Silverstream man as well and the young guys like Kini Naholo and Ruben Love bring a fair bit of flair.”
The players are enjoying their new training digs at the New Zealand Campus of Innovation and Sport (NZCIS) in Trentham. Higgins spent four years in and around Rugby League Park.
“It’s kind of cool to be part of the first couple of teams based at the NZCIS. There’s a whole lot of new technology in there, the pools are good and there is an altitude room and a massive gym and green room, awesome fields and places to eat your lunch and relax.”
As well as rugby, Higgins has a keen interest in most other sports. “I follow the NBA basketball and the NRL rugby league competitions closely and play a bit of golf in my spare time – any sponsors who want to sponsor me some golf clubs please get in touch!”
He studied human bio science last year, but is putting that in the back pocket this year and is currently exploring a business idea – watch this space.
Between that and the big season ahead, Higgins has much more to look forward to in 2023.
Riley Higgins in action for St Pat’s Silverstream, helping set up tries in a couple of school finals and running on to a kick to score against Palmerston North Boys’ High School.