Anthony Pettett leads his teammates on to Helston Park on Saturday in their match against Old Boys University. This Saturday they host Paremata-Plimmerton at the same venue, kick-off 2.45pm.
- By Adam Julian
Johnsonville and Paremata-Plimmerton became so familiar with losing they introduced an unofficial trophy for their matches, a wooden spoon.
Johnsonville lock Anthony Pettett is uncertain of the precise origins of the spoon but when both teams were firmly entrenched at the bottom of the Wellington club rugby pecking order the spoon became a self-deprecating way of making a meaningless fixture meaningful.
Johnsonville were in such a rut that they lost 36 consecutive Swindale Shield matches from 2018 to 2020.
Paremata-Plimmerton weren’t much better. Between 2015 and 2021 they won eight matches with three winless seasons.
This weekend Johnsonville hosts Paremata-Plimmerton in a Round 7 Swindale Shield clash which could influence who the eventual Swindale Shield winner is.
Since a last-play loss to Upper Hutt in the first round, the Hammerheads have won an unprecedented five successive matches and reside in second place on the table but with the same number of points as leaders the Upper Hutt Rams. The Johnsonville Hawks are five points adrift in sixth but have only dropped one of six fixtures.
This past Saturday, Johnsonville powered to a 27-14 victory over previously unbeaten Old Boys University. It was the Hawks’ first win in 15 matches against the students stretching back to 2005, when Openside flanker Graeme Webster and first five Corey Burt scored tries in a 14-10 win at Nairnville Park.
Tussling towards the top of the table is unfamiliar terrain for both clubs. How does Johnsonville intend to maintain its rare form?
“We’ve had a reputation for having good backs the past couple of years, but the forwards haven’t given them enough ball which is something I take personally,” lock Anthony Pettett said.
“We’re not going to go into our shells. We haven’t got to where we are by not backing ourselves to have a crack.”
“Para-Plim are an attacking side. They’re especially good counterattacking from turnovers, so we’ll have to shut down their key threats by fronting physically. Only then can we have a better dig ourselves.”
A product of Newlands College, Pettett was in a Wellington Rugby Academy class which included Super Rugby locks Taine Plumtree and Naitoa Ah Kuoi. He was a regular in the Hawks from 2015 to 2019, making 62 appearances before frustration and concussion replaced enjoyment.
“I lost the love of the game, so I quit. When I stopped playing I initially came to the club as a spectator, but I got a lot of pressure to keep playing so I stopped coming altogether. That wasn’t healthy. I love the social camaraderie of rugby. I didn’t play at all in 2020 and 2021. I played a little in 2022 and I could see the changes so here I am.”
New coaches Jason Adamson, Dallas Paotonu, and Andrew Wharakura have brought a more analytical approach to the game. Oppositions are studied thoroughly, and game plans are adjusted to combat rivals, something difficult to achieve when only a handful of players are turning up to training.
Greater time and investment in local talent have boosted numbers and built growing pride and confidence. There is even a burgeoning Johnsonville Academy.
Pettett was always mobile with aerial prowess. Several kilos heavier, today he’s a more mature aggressive, clinical, and nuanced player.
“When I was younger, I tried to hit every ruck, make every tackle, and probably looked good until I was so bagged up, I couldn’t do anything.
“I’m better at picking my moments now. My extra weight means I’ve got more confidence to take and make big hits which is huge.”
These attributes came to the fore on Saturday in the 27-14 win over Old Boys University.
Pettett picked out several big moments to make his mark against the Goats, including effecting more than one turnover on or near his own line that thwarted the visitors. He was even sin-binned in the heat of one such play in the second half, but his teammates dug deeper to prevent an OBU comeback such as that by Marist St Pat’s a fortnight earlier.
Johnsonville opened their season with a 31-24 victory over Poneke. The boot of Mark Sutton was the difference. The halfback kicked four penalties. Following a narrow defeat to Petone in the second round, a much heavier Hutt Old Boys Marist was demolished 42-7 in Round 3 with Pettett scoring a try. A large lead was surrendered in a draw against MSP before Ories was tamed at the Polo Ground. Jason Tuitama flourished by scoring two tries.
Paremata-Plimmerton won the 2022 meeting against Johnsonville who are keen to dispense the unofficial ‘wooden spoon’ on Saturday.