Water polo: Worlds awaits young guns

By Peter White


The Tauranga water polo community has reason to celebrate after four of their talented young athletes were named in the New Zealand team to contest the World Under-18 Water Polo Championships in Perth, from December 1-9.

The selection of Simone Cuvee, Danny Kayes, Cameron Hayes and Matt Hansen is the best representation in the New Zealand Under-18 team from the Tauranga Water Polo Club.

Cuvee is the first Tauranga woman selected at this level for her country and the Mount College student is excited about taking on Canada and Brazil in pool play.

"This is the best achievement for me as basically everything has been leading up to making this team so everything has paid off, I guess," she said.

"I was really happy to be named, as they took so long to name it so it was a relief, really. It shows just how hard you have to work, not being from a big city."

It may be the pinnacle of the 18-year-old's career but this is not her first taste of international competition, having represented New Zealand since the under-15 age group.

Cuvee has done some work on the opposition she will face and has set some team goals, as have her 12 teammates.

"We want to make the top six and it has helped us that Spain has pulled out of our group because they could not afford to come. So if we can beat either Canada or Brazil we will make top six, which is the best any New Zealand team has done."

Making water polo his priority has been a tough decision for Kayes, who turns 18 next week and must be right at the top of the list of most talented teenage sportsmen in the Bay of Plenty.

He plays First XV rugby for Mount College and was in the Bay of Plenty Under-18s and Chiefs Under-18 development camp, is a highly regarded Sevens player and turned down the opportunity to trial for the New Zealand Under-20 surf lifesaving team.

But the recently crowned Sports Boy of the Year at Mount College has decided to make water polo his priority and has been in New Zealand rep teams since he was 14, including making New Zealand Secondary Schools this year for the third time.

Water polo is in his blood, with father Paul the founder of the Tauranga Water Polo Club, and brother Joe New Zealand's best known player, with a flourishing professional career in the sport's toughest league in Hungary.

"I am very keen to go overseas and take it further, especially over there with Joe," Kayes said.

"It is almost a dream to be playing in the same professional team together. At this tournament there will be a lot of scouts there from all countries, which is how Joe got picked up, so for me I hope to have a good tournament and get picked up by a scout.

"But if I don't then maybe I will look to go play in Australia next year. There are plenty of options for me but I am not in any rush."

New Zealand have Canada, Australia, South Africa and Colombia in their group, which Kayes says will be a tough ask to get through.

"We had a training camp against the Aussies three weeks ago and they are a really disciplined and fit team, and are easily top 10. South Africa are similar to us and are a really strong, physical team, Colombia I am not too sure about, but Croatia are the Olympic champions so their junior team will be very good."

The two Tauranga Boys' College students at just 16 are the youngest members of the New Zealand team.

Their selection is even more meteoric considering water polo has not been a main sport at the school, but the standard has improved dramatically in recent years.

"It is special making it from Tauranga Boys', where water polo is not so well known," Hayes said.

"Our coach Mr Crawford didn't know water polo from a bar of soap when he first started but he has driven the sport at school for five or six years, which has been good, and we are slowly getting better.

"We came 16th at the nationals in his first year but this year we came sixth, which is much better.

"Matt and I are the young ones in the New Zealand team but it doesn't matter to us. We're not the smallest in the team. Not many other players as young as us have made the world's team so we're pretty stoked.

"Most of our teammates are from Auckland so they have that advantage but it is good having three of us from here in the team. In two years Matt and me will be at the top of our age group and that will be an opportunity to maybe get scouted and go play overseas."

The close bond between Hayes and Hansen in the pool has been the result of playing together since they were at primary school.

Hansen says one reason for their success has been their competitive nature, constantly trying to get better and make the next rep team available.

"It works really well to have my close friend Hayesy and me pushing each other and helping each other out. We have been playing together since we were 9 years old so it has helped us heaps.

"There has been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice to get to this stage. I have dedicated myself to water polo all year and trained hard, not really worrying about what everyone else is doing."

Competing at the worlds in December has been a constant motivation for Hansen since the team was announced.

"I think it about heaps and every night it is in my head for sure. I am just keen to see all the other countries and to see where New Zealand water polo is at compared with players our age.

"I am just stoked to even go. It is a huge achievement for us all."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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