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Ha’amea Ahio and Johnsonville looking ahead to the Hardham Cup

Johnsonville Premier team players and members on the field after their win over Marist St Pat’s last Saturday. Captain Ha’amea Ahio top, second from the right. Photo: James/Natural Light Photography. 

  • By Steven White

After a turbulent several weeks highlighted by three last-gasp losses at the death, the Johnsonville Hawks signed off their Swindale Shield campaign in style last Saturday with a bombastic 43-17 win over Marist St Pat’s.

The bonus point win lifted them one spot to finish 10th in the first round, already out of Jubilee Cup reckoning, but enough to give them confidence they can finish the final four-week block of 2024 with a flourish.

In round one of the Hardham Cup this coming Saturday, the Hawks play the Wellington Axemen (10th v 13th) and if they win that – as this past weekend’s form strongly suggests – then its all on for their supporters.

Captain and versatile prop Ha’amea Ahio said their win over MSP on Old Timers’ Day was the perfect way to end their first round.

They were down 12-0 early though, so what happened?

“They scored one of those early tries you often see soon after kick-off, so they were up a try after only a couple of minutes,” said Ahio. “They then scored again, but after that second try our boys just rallied under our posts and we said this one is for the Old Timers.”

The talk worked as Johnsonville hit back with three tries of their own to lead 17-12 at halftime. They then pulled away in the second half.

Left wing Jacob Walmsley scored five tries and right wing Finlay Sharp two.

There was recent positive history in this match to draw on for some of the Hawks players and many supporters. Two years ago, Johnsonville beat MSP 36-33 on the same ground. Last year, they drew 31-31 at Evans Bay Park. Jacob Walmsley scored tries in each of those games too.

Ahio said it’s good to have players like Walmsley back and firing. “Our team has been hit with a lot of injuries this year. I think we had three that were season-ending before the Swindale Shield even started. When we played Poneke a couple of weeks ago, we didn’t know who our starting XV was until the Saturday morning.”

Then there were those consecutive losses at the death that Ahio admits was hard on the Hawks, as they would be for any side.

Those were to Tawa (35-40), the Upper Hutt Rams (24-25) and Paremata-Plimmerton (28-29).

“Paremata-Plimmerton was a loss at fulltime by a sideline conversion to Sam Clarke. Losing three games on the 80th minute was tough on the boys and on the club.

“During those weeks we were still fighting for a spot in the top eight to play in the Jubilee Cup.”

Johnsonville’s international flavour also helped pulled them through.

“We have our Irishmen, Mark Sutton and Nial Delahunt.

“Finlay Sharp and Regan Herbert are our two English boys that came over at the start of last year. Finlay has been a great addition to the club, a hearty English player and very fast. Regan plays hooker but also fills in at No. 8 and is valuable to our forwards. They are best friends and came over together.

“It is like the UK and Irish Barbarians at Johnsonville!”

Members of the Jonsonville Premiers celebrating their win last Saturday in the changing sheds at Helston Park. Photo: James/Natural Light Photography.

One player that has gone the other way is Anthony Pettett, who is currently in the U.K.

Pettett was a key player last year as Johnsonville finished fifth in the Swindale Shield and then qualified second and earned a home semi-final in the Jubilee Cup, before being over-run by a rampant Oriental-Rongotai.

“We had the lead at halftime in that game [23-5] but Ories came back and beat us [39-26], they played really well that day, they have some good players.

“Overall, the last couple of years has been good for our club. We don’t have the number of players that come to us out of school from the big schools. We have our local boys from Onslow and Newlands Colleges, and it is a big learning curve.”

Ahio leads the side out in the opening match of this year’s Swindale Shield against this year’s Swindale Shield champions Old Boys University. OBU won a tight tussle 41-37. Photo: Andy McArthur. 

Ahio himself went to Newlands College in his last year of school.

He was born in Tonga and attended Tupou College before he moved to Wellington in 2009 when his father, Sateki, was appointed Tonga’s deputy high commissioner to NZ.

He has been with the club through thick and thin, as well as having two short stints at Marist St Pat’s, where his career started off in their champion 2010-11 Colts teams, and one at Ories. Combined, he has played well north of 150 Premier games (154 according to our database but likely more off the bench as substitutions weren’t recorded prior to 2016).

Ahio, who plays prop on both sides of the scrum, has also played plenty of representative rugby. He played two seasons for Horowhenua-Kapiti in the Heartland Championship in 2014 and 2015 and has been in the Wellington Lions environment continuously since 2016, playing the last of his seven NPC matches against Bay of Plenty last year.

During the week he is busy with his job in the office as Poste Haste couriers down in Ngauranga, but come Thursday night at training and Friday he will be back up the hill working hard helping to prepare the Hawks for the next part of the season.

“The win on Saturday was a good set-up for the Hardham Cup. We are going to try and target that now.”

Ahio is experienced enough to know not to treat the Wellington Axemen lightly this Saturday, especially with all the rain about early this week softening up the grounds.

“I think the wet weather rugby evens out teams a lot. We have seen it happen a lot in professional rugby as well. Every match from here on in is a big one.”

Johnsonville v Wellington. Hardham Cup Round One, Helston Park, Saturday 2.45pm.

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