Ben Hendry in his 100th Premier match for the Wellington Axemen last weekend at home at Hataitai Park. Photo: Brad Roberts/ Wellington Football Club.
- By Steven White
Premier wins have been few and far between for the home team at Hataitai Park in recent times.
But front-rower turned openside flanker Ben Hendry is just the type of player a battling club wants in their line-up each week. Hendry praised the loyalty and friendship his adopted club has given him over the last six and a half seasons since his move to Wellington from the South Island.
This past Saturday saw Hendry run out to play his 100th Premier match for the Wellington Axemen, a milestone that was furthest from his mind when he started at the club at the start of 2017.
“When I moved up to Wellington, I just wanted to find some mates and keep playing rugby,” he said. “I had a friend already there and I also spoke with Murray Mexted and he said come on up and I have been playing there ever since.”
Hendry was even presented with a real axe before his 100th game.
“One of the injured boys went to Bunnings just before the game and bought it and thought it would be a good idea when I was running out at the start of the game to give me the axe. I think it cost him $30 or something, but it was a nice touch!”
The axe was left in the clubrooms for safe keeping.
His journey to Wellington started in Dunedin where he grew up and continued in Canterbury, where he studied for his Engineering degree.
Hendry’s first club was the Kaikorai Demons Junior club in Dunedin, the club his older brother George went on to play 100 Senior games for.
He attended Otago Boys’ High School and made the First XV in his final year in 2012. This was a memorable team.
“We won the South Island final the year I was in the First XV. We beat Christchurch Boys’ High School away to make the Top Four. They had Anton Liernet-Brown at centre. I think he scored two tries but then got injured and went off and we came back and won.”
Otago Boys’ beat Napier Boys’ in their Top 4 semi-final at Rotorua and then lost to Auckland’s Saint Kentigern College in the final. Their season record was 24 wins from 25 matches.
Hendry’s Otago Boys’ teammates included representative players such as Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley, Otago players Josh Dickson, Sio Tomkinson and and Josh Renton and BoP player Troy Callandar.
Hendry moved up to Canterbury University and played Colts rugby for that club and three years of Premiers, estimating that he played about 40 Premier matches in Christchurch Premier club rugby.
In this time, he also played for the Canterbury Colts representative team and in 2015 toured England with the New Zealand U23 Universities side, a team that included a handful of Old Boys University players from their squad that won their maiden Jubilee Cup title that year.
Growing up, Hendry was a front-rower. “I played a bit of prop at Otago Boys’, then prop and hooker in Canterbury. “When I came to Wellington, I didn’t really tell anyone I could play prop because I didn’t really want to play there!”
He played most of his matches at hooker for the Axemen from 2017-21 inclusive, before moving to flanker for much of 2022 and for all his seven starts thus far in 2023.
“This year we have got a few hookers so I volunteered to jump into flanker, although I still throw the ball into the lineout.”
He works for Beca as a structural engineer, mostly a desk job in Wellington. But he has some trips away, such as to Whangarei recently causing him to miss a couple of matches.
Beating Marist St Pat’s 13-10 in the third round of the Swindale Shield in 2019 was a highlight match in Wellington club rugby for Hendry, not just for the win but also because he helped celebrate two of his teammates with milestones. “Both Eremia Tapsell and Jason Bird played their 50th matches that day, so it was great to help them win on the occasion.”
Hendry and the Axemen after their win over MSP in the Swindale Shield in 2019. Photo: Andy McArthur.
Hendry said that he has no plans to stop playing the game he loves, and hinted he might be heading overseas next year for some travel and if so he will take his rugby boots with him.
He admitted its tough going losing every week – he was last in a winning team almost two years ago in an 18-5 win over Avalon – but the pull of the Axemen jersey and the camaraderie of his team and club mates is strong.
Plus the fact that Paremata-Plimmerton and Johnsonville- both competition minnows in recent seasons – have found the winning formula, so there’s swings and roundabouts.
This coming Saturday the Axemen play Petone in a match that has been moved to the Hutt Rec as the Petone Rec field is in a right state. Plus the grandstand was recently closed to the public by his industry colleagues for an unsafe roof.
Petone v Wellington, for the Bill Francis & Jack Taylor Trophy. Hutt Recreation Ground, Saturday 2.45pm.