Harbour Rugby Win Over Auckland Tom Coventry’s Highlight of 2017

Mitre 10 Cup Rd 3 - North Harbour v Auckland
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Considering any season, when not included in the major finals match, the majority of sports coaches would say they were not entirely happy. Naturally, the ‘will to win’ is strong, but Harbour Rugby head coach Tom Coventry is still glowing over his sides resurgence in the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.

“We obviously want what Canterbury and Tasman are playing for this weekend”.

“We want the top prize [the Premiership title] but this is a stepping stone, and we’ll learn from our loss to Canterbury in the semifinal. I think the boys realize now they can actually compete against them, and more so we are good enough to beat them if we’re just a little bit sharper,” was the assessment that Coventry told Last Word on Rugby in a telephone interview.

His statement that is was “a good year” is probably humble. The North Harbour union regained a place in the Premiership/First Division, and made their fans proud in finishing in the top four. Not a mean achievement, when you consider that more fancied teams finished near the relegation zone.

Waikato have fallen out of the top-tier, with Wellington elevating themselves up after last night’s 59-45 home Championship Final victory. But Waikato and Auckland will reflect on a poor season, while Coventry and his team can be proud of the year in which Harbour Rugby were recognized as legitimate competition.

Harbour Rugby Win Over Auckland Tom Coventry’s Highlight of 2017

“It would have to be the Auckland game,” was the easy response from Coventry, on the highlight for him. “That was a ‘day in the sun’ and it pleased a lot of ex-players and board members, who’ve had to endure from years gone by, Auckland having that reign over us.

“The fact that we beat them at home, and the way it was done. And it’s also good for the region, in that the boy’s in our region getting selected into higher honours with the Blues.

“They did everything they could on that day, and it went to plan, which was pleasing”.

He said to that it set them up nicely, gave his side “a real boost” that saw them record a 8 wins, 2 losses in the regular season. Matching the records of both Canterbury and Taranaki–who finished first.

It was also a game where senior players stood tall. James Parsons with an intercept try that produced his biggest grin of the year. Matt Vaega–who was voted the ‘Players Player of the Year’ at Harbour Rugby prize giving–showed his form. Three try assists, and he certainly made a case for Blues honours in 2018.

Many of the team demonstrated their abilities that day, but also over the course of the year. And as the individuals now go their separate ways; some to rest bones jarred by the labours of rugby, others move on to representative rugby.

Four Harbour Players Selected for End of Year Tour Matches

In the announcements this week, three Harbour players names were called out for higher honours. Chris Eves, Shaun Stevenson and Jarrad Hoeata being named in the Maori All Blacks team–to tour Canada and France.

But the standout player, was undoubtedly Matt Duffie. His terrific rise in both Mitre 10 Cup and Super Rugby, rewards the Takapuna player with a call up to the All Blacks. A superb opportunity, Duffie will be a good addition to the squad with his confidence under the ball, leadership and maturity.

Those qualities make Duffie the perfect candidate to be selected to possibly play a match (or even a Test match) on his first All Blacks tour. They were advantages he had that earned him the co-captains role within the Harbour team; alongside James Parsons.

They each lead by example. Coventry assembled a group whom had good experience and plenty of new local players All powerful evidence of a growth from within the region.

Also making representative-grade rugby, is Mark Telea. He was named in the NZ Sevens Development team who will travel to the San Jose Sevens in the United States. As well, Ben Volavola will play for Fiji in the November Internationals. So players from the 2017 squad are being recognized for an outstanding contribution.

Coaches Give Players Transition Reports Before Off-Season

Coventry is an accurate judge of the positives and negatives over a season. The learnings that can be taken from wins and losses, so he will carry out surveys with players and management. The feedback will go toward ‘transition reports’ that players can take away with them. But gone are the days of “putting your feet up and going to the beach” Coventry joked.

Today’s professional rugby environment is about fulltime commitment. From the players to coaches, he says “it is a 360 approach”. Management value feedback from players and stakeholders, to make their own improvements. The whole organization is aimed at the next season, with reviews and preparations on going.

Asked if he was taking any time off, he answer was quick. “No we don’t have an off-season. Super Rugby sides are selected in a months time. They’ll be interim training contracts, Blues development sides, the Harbour Sevens program with Amasio Valence.”

No rest, but I sensed that it was invigorating for Coventry and not something that he sounded like he was afraid of embracing.

Performance of Side in 2017 Was Above Expectations

While the coach maybe reserved in his praise, others have not. From talkback to media commentators, to opposition coaches like Scott Robertson of the Crusaders–they have all been delighted with the progress of North Harbour as a whole.

“We had two very good five-eighths this year. Off the back of Bryn Gatland’s boot, and through the hands of Matty V, our backs Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie and Tevita Li scored a lot of good tries.”

Most of those names are of players gladly signed to Harbour. Li (see main picture) is in the middle of negotiations, and while that is a process, the union would do well to re-secure a contract for the top try scorer. The backs gelled well, with Bryn Hall the glue that bonded the backs and forwards into formidable unit.

“It’s been successful but we are still not happy where we finished up. We played a reasonably expansive sort of rugby, people enjoyed watching us play. The tries we scored.

“I think we are looking to prove we’re not just a ‘flash in the pan’ and can play with the big boys.”

Talent Coming Through the Ranks of Harbour Harbour

Some of the talent coming through include Murphy Taramai. Voted as the ‘Player of the Year’ Taramai continued his growth from the Blues season. Part of the successful Northcote side, he was part of a “very capable pack” that Coventry was more than happy with. Not only the starters, he saw plenty from the replacement prop Adrian Smith and hooker Steven Misa.

Jarrad Hoeata of North Harbour makes a break during the Mitre 10 Cup match between Southland and North Harbour. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

While the pack may not have scored many tries in 2017, what they achieved led to many of the tries scored by the backs. Coventry pinpointed the ‘physical edge’ that Jarrad Hoeata brought (see above picture). And even if the loose forwards took a hammering–as they do–the coach described them all as “working hard all year to try to find consistency.”

When discussed player-by-player, Coventry could confirm most names of players will all return. However, Ben Volavola is off to Bordeaux in France as he could not secure a Super contract. But the current group appear to be intact, to continue their rise in confidence within the Mitre 10 Cup competition.

“We’ll be harder to play against [after this years experience]. And teams we hope respect us more now,” were final comments from Tom Coventry; when asked if teams would ‘pick Harbour’ when the draw is being discussed  in 2018.

Not one to hand out ratings publically, the internal appraisals will all be aimed at looking ahead. Tom Coventry and his assistant Daniel Halangahu are both benefitting from the gains earned by former coach, and Blues assistant, Steve Jackson. They carry on the rebuilding stages that now reward fans, with so many great performances this season.

2017 was a good year, but you would assume that the team ethos of ‘NOT DONE YET’ will apply even more so in 2018.

“Main photo credit”
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