Just when we thought kayaker Aimee Fisher had the 2018 Hawke's Bay Sportsperson of the Year award in the bag along comes rugby league star Tohu Harris with a first for the province.
While Fisher, who already has two junior world championship golds and a senior world championship bronze on her CV for the May awards, Harris, who is expected to be named in the Kiwis World Cup squad tomorrow, could push Fisher close if he plays as big a role in a World Cup win in December as he did in the Melbourne Storm's 34-6 demolition job on the North Queensland Cowboys in Sunday night's NRL grand final win in Sydney. Even if the 25-year-old Hastings Boys' High School product misses out to Fisher he is still the first Hawke's Bay player to capture a grand final winner's ring.
"Tohu is definitely our first. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime as you only dream of these sort of things," a jubilant Rugby League Hawke's Bay historian and former Hawke's Bay Unicorns player, Ngavii Pekepo, said yesterday.
"It's the best game I've ever seen and Tohu performed so well in it. The fact seven Storm players made the Aussie team for the World Cup is an indication of how great that side was and I would love to see Tohu's ring at some stage," Waipukurau Rams stalwart Pekepo added.
Warriors-bound Harris, who played in his second consecutive grand final, was the top tackler in the match with 43 and, despite having two spells, made 113 metres on the carry, 12 more than fellow Kiwi and Cowboys enforcer Jason Taumalolo who cracked 235 metres in a couple of matches earlier in the season.
Harris' former Hawke's Bay age group coach and former Tamatea premier team mentor, Adrian Rowlands, had a grin as big as a fend he once put on yours truly almost 30 years ago after watching televised coverage of the final with clubmates.
"We all know quality ferocious defence wins titles and Tohu led the way in that respect. Add to that what he did on attack and he had a bomb game. It was definitely Tohu's best game. The whole team performed well right across the park. There are no Is in team when you talk about that Storm outfit. They all do it for each other," Rowlands said.
"I knew the Storm were going to pump. At the same time it would not have been like that if the Cowboys had Johnathan Thurston and the Cowboys were unlucky to have that early injury. I have to take my hat off to Bellamy [Storm coach Craig Bellamy]. It doesn't matter who the player is who turns up at the Storm. He changes the whole mentality of them and takes them to the highest level."
Rowlands, who had a playing stint with South Sydney in 1985, was the bloke who told Harris' father, Paul, back in 2007 that his son would be an NRL player.
"Now Tohu has an NRL grand final winner's ring. I think they are worth around $10,000. I know it's hamburger money compared with an NFL one but they are still pretty special.
"Tohu is a chip off the old block. His old man tackled like that when we [Tamatea] won the Maddison Trophy in 1982," Rowlands added, referring to the most prestigious piece of silverware on the Hawke's Bay club rugby scene.
Harris' mother, Dale, agreed it was her son's best NRL performance.
"He was awesome and it was a pretty good team performance all round. It was just an amazing match and Tohu would have been among the next four or five players after Billy Slater in the battle for the player of the match," she said.
Nobody would dispute that point. Harris is proof players from Hawke's Bay can crack the big time in the NRL if they are prepared to put in the hard work.
A Kiwis utility since 2013, Harris was joint winner of the Ngati Kahungunu Sportsperson of the Year award with All Black halfback Aaron Smith in 2015. In 2010 he captured the junior award at the Ngati Kahungunu Sports Awards function.
In the wake of Sunday's success there is no doubt more awards will flow his way. The challenge for Rowlands and his mates is to now find the next Harris.