Andy Ellis playing for Johnsonville in 2021 at Helston Park. Photo: Natural Light Photography.
Johnsonville’s 31-24 win over Poneke in the first round of the Swindale Shield last Saturday was one of the notable results of the opening weekend.
Andy Ellis took a year off last season as Johnsonville won four and drew one of their 13 matches and had one of their best seasons in several years. The former wing turned midfielder wearing his distinctive colourful headgear has returned in 2023 to add to his some 140 Premier games.
Huddy Sports caught up with Ellis on the weekly Huddy Hui on Wednesday night. The full conversation can be viewed here:
Ellis told Huddy that the key to last week’s win was a gutsy and committed all-round team performance. “We played with the wind in the first half and in the second we just tried to hold on and we managed to do that at tough ground to win at Kilbirnie Park,” he said.
“We have had a good off-season, and have gained some new and returning players, such as Jack Taulapapa, a couple of players who have come from the U.K, and Anthony Pettett who like Taulapapa has come back from a break,”
Local lock Pettett is a former New Zealand Schools representative and aside from two matches at the tail-end of last year hasn’t played in the Wellington competition since 2019. He was a disruptive influence in Johnsonville’s lineout against Poneke.
Serge Hollis took the field as the other lock on Saturday, but he has also been working hard as RDO around the club and helping the young and new Hawks feel at home. He is coaching the Colts this year as well.
Ellis was sporting a black eye this week, but not of Poneke’s doing. “Our halfback Mark Sutton did a box kick but he succeeded in kicking it straight into my face!”
Ellis started at Oies in 2013 and played several seasons for the Magpies, before switching to the Hawks and praised the culture and support of the club.
“I grew up in Johnsonville and played all my Junior rugby here so am right at home at the club. We have lots of hardcore support such as [outgoing WRFU President] Kerry Walsh, Wally Smith and my dad Paul.”
“They’ve had it tough over the past 10-15 years, so we want to try and get some more wins for our club.”
Johnsonville sustained a 36-game losing streak, but Ellis scored 18 points in the match that broke that duck against Avalon in 2020. “That meant so much to the club, it also gave a lot of the Johnsonville guys a taste of victory that they hadn’t had previously.”
The former Wellington College student and 2011 First XV squad member explained that he moved back to the Northern Suburbs and as a former Hawks junior moving from Ories in Miramar to Johnsonville was a straightforward decision.
Last year, Ellis returned to play in Ireland, where he spent a season previously in 2019, but it didn’t work out.
“I got there and there was a problem with the transfer of overseas players issue and it was too late to get registered. So I was stuck over there for the most part. It was also the height of Covid. I ended up playing two or three games for the second team and that was it.”
He got to do some travelling though, so not a wasted trip.
Ellis is the connection between Johnsonville players Nial Delahunt and the aforementioned Sutton joining the club two years ago.
Ellis rates his most memorable match for Johnsonville in his time a 53-24 win over the Upper Hutt Rams in 2020, and also beating the Axemen to reach the Hardham Cup semi-final in 2021.
Ellis says his most comfortable position is wing/fullback “Because I just love running with the ball and scoring tries. But these days I am getting a bit slower so I am happy to move in more where I can also help out with some of the calls and let some of the fast younger guys to run fast and score those tries.”
Ellis not only lights up rugby fields, he is an electrician by day, and co-runs his own company, Panda Electrical.
What about the distinctive headgear?
“I actually stole it off my friend, George Faingaa [recent Upper Hutt Rams and Old Boys University midfielder]!”
“I just started wearing it, after getting a couple of knocks when I was younger, but it also creates a bit of a mental thing for me where with it on I go into tackles with the correct technique and use if for protection that way as well as the actual padding.”
“The other thing is, going out there wearing it people will notice that guy with the colourful headgear, that he either is a good player, or maybe he is useless – but either way they will remember him!”
It is definitely the former of those two options.
This weekend, Johnsonville host Petone at Helston Park at 2.45pm. Defending Swindale Shield champions Petone had a 41-3 win over Northern United in their opener.