By PHILIP CHANDLER
Ruatoria’s an awfully-long way from Queenstown — you first fly to Gisborne, which is remote enough, and then it’s almost two hours by road.
However, it’s a journey Wakatipu Premiers stalwart Raf Tuhura’s making this season to play rep rugby.
The former Waka captain, who’s played 130 to 140 games for his side — he lost count after bringing up 100 in 2019 — is in the Ngati Porou East Coast squad for this year’s Heartland Championship, which kicks off in August.
The Gisborne-raised 33-year-old — who moved to Queenstown when he was about 12 and first played for Waka at the under-13s level — had always wanted to play a game for his
family’s East Coast club, Hikurangi Sports Club.
‘‘No one had played there since my grandfather, and he passed away a few years ago.’’
Tuhura finally played for the club last month, and then got tapped for the East Coast team, coached by ex-All Black Hosea Gear — ‘‘it was a bit of a shock’’.
To accept, he had to pull out of the Wakatipu side for the rest of the season.
‘‘Obviously it was a tough decision, but I think they’re going so well they don’t even probably need me.’’
Tuhura was selected as starting lock for East Coast’s pre-season game against Poverty Bay last weekend, went to Ruatoria, but couldn’t play after tearing a calf playing against Arrowtown the week prior.
‘‘It was good to meet all the boys and go to training and work out all their calls and systems.’’
Due to family and work commitments, Tuhura’s told Gear he’ll probably only play every second week, but will definitely make all the South Island games and hopefully a few home games, too.
He says it won’t be hard getting to know all his teammates, who, like him, are all from the Ngati Porou iwi.
‘‘Most of them are sort of extended family, and everyone’s pretty welcoming — I’m just as
comfortable in that environment as I am down here.’’
He can’t wait to don the light-blue jersey which, ironically, isn’t unlike the Wakatipu one — ‘‘must be the true colours alright’’, he quips.
He thinks he’ll just play the one season before resuming his Waka rugby career — ‘‘I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to keep bloody going up there and trying to play’’.
After a week’s break, the final round of the Central Otago Premiers rugby comp kicks off tomorrow.
Wakatipu, who head the table on points differential from Upper Clutha, play Maniototo in
Ranfurly and need to win to keep their spot ahead of the finals.
Third-placed Arrowtown are at home to bottom-of-the-table Cromwell Cavaliers.
Both games kick off 2.30pm.