Rugby league: Nines not on the agenda for Bay star so far

By Shane Hurndell

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Hawke's Bay's Melbourne Storm NRL rugby league player Tohu Harris with partner Natalie 
Jones and relatives Arie Te Whiu, 5, and Luca Te Whiu, 6, and other family members during the weekend's coaching clinic at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park in Hastings. Photo/Paul Taylor.
Hawke's Bay's Melbourne Storm NRL rugby league player Tohu Harris with partner Natalie Jones and relatives Arie Te Whiu, 5, and Luca Te Whiu, 6, and other family members during the weekend's coaching clinic at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park in Hastings. Photo/Paul Taylor.

Catch up with any rugby league fan in Hawke's Bay and it doesn't take long before the question is asked.

"Are you going to the Auckland Nines in February?"

Promoted as The Greatest Weekend as well as The Biggest Event of the New Zealand Summer, the Nines will feature nine-a-side teams from all 16 NRL clubs playing for $2.25 million in prizemoney. Many local fans are waiting to hear if Melbourne Storm secondrower Tohu Harris, of Hawke's Bay, gets selected for the tourney before buying tickets.

However, the Nines is way off Harris' radar.

"I haven't heard the Nines discussed back at the Storm. We're pretty focused on our pre-season training for the NRL season," Harris said after completing a coaching clinic in Hastings at the weekend with his Storm clubmates Ryan Hoffman and Tony Adam.

Hastings Boys' High School product Harris, 21, also has his attention on a major off-field date next month. He will marry his partner Natalie Jones, of Wellington, in Melbourne.

While he will always be remembered as the bloke dropped from the Kiwis' 2013 World Cup squad after Sonny Bill Williams' controversial change of mind to make himself available, Harris is working hard to be remembered for his on-field exploits next year.

This year was certainly a memorable one for Ngati Kahungunu's 2010 Junior Sportsman of the Year. He scored a crucial try in the Storm's World Club Challenge win over the Leeds Rhinos in Britain and after an impressive NRL debut season for the Storm made his Kiwis' debut in the April Anzac test.

"It's been a long season and I definitely got more game time than I expected," Harris said.

As he farewelled Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Manawatu youngsters after the weekend's clinic, his memories of the 2008-09 Storm trial camp he attended in Wellington flooded back.

"This weekend's clinic was pretty much the same as that one. I was particularly impressed with the talent in the under-15 age group here this weekend ... there is a lot of potential. I told them no matter what happens it's important they soak everything up at clinics like this," former Tamatea premier league and union player Harris said.

"Even if they don't get selected straight away to trial for an NRL club they should always do everything they can to continue to improve their game. There will always be opportunities down the track and if they continue to improve their game and themselves they will get their chance.

"I don't know what these youngsters are like off the field but they know it's important to be balanced," Harris, who his former Tamatea coach Adrian Rowlands described as "one of those one-in-a-million blokes" back in 2009, said.

"Tohu doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and doesn't have a girlfriend ... that's how committed he is to his sport," Rowlands said.

There's no doubt Harris is an ideal role model for youngsters eyeing a crack at the big time.

New Zealand Rugby League's development officer for Hawke's Bay, Anaru Bartlett, a cousin of Harris, described the weekend, which attracted 70 lower North Island players, as "massive".

"All the indications are that it will become an annual event," Bartlett said.

Six of the players will be monitored with the aim of being considered for a youth trial with the Storm club, similar to the one Harris had as a youngster.

They are the Bay's Xavier Smith, Bailyn Sullivan, Al Momoisea and Vita Tomoana and Taranaki's Tre Te Wake and Joey Los'e.

Smith was the outstanding under-17 player of the weekend and Te Wake the pick of the under-15 players.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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