Okaihau boy in race for last 'Tahs slot

By Cameron Leslie

While everyone's focus in the recent Super Rugby runaround at Toll Stadium earlier this month was on the Blues and Rene Ranger, Northland had another local boy playing, but for the Waratahs.

Okaihau bred Dane Maraki came off the bench for the Waratahs in their pre-season match, looking to impress coach Michael Cheika and nab the final spot in the New South Wales side's Super Rugby squad. Now 26, Maraki afterwards said it was an odd feeling for him playing for the Waratahs on his home ground.

"I'm a born and bred Northland boy," said the 114kg loosehead prop, adding, "It's a pretty awesome experience, coming back here and playing a Super Rugby trial at my home ground.

"We were kind of trialling for the squad these last couple of [pre-season] games, we've got one more and then they'll let us know what happens."

A few years ago Maraki spent two months trialling for the Taniwha but, for whatever reason, wasn't selected as part of former coach Bryce Woodward's ITM Cup side.

"Things didn't really work out there so I ended up leaving and playing rugby for Manly in Sydney in the Shute Shield. I was probably in too much of a hurry to try and make it, at the time I probably wasn't ready but I feel I have come along since then," Maraki said.

He balances teaching physical education with playing semi-professional rugby and said after Saturday's match he'd one day love to play ITM Cup rugby alongside Rene Ranger in Northland colours.

"At the moment the ultimate goal is to get a crack at Super Rugby. [But] a big goal of mine is to still get at least one game of ITM Cup, I'd love to play for Northland, but whatever happens happens. It's always been a goal ever since I was little to play ITM Cup," he said.

Currently, Maraki plies his trade for the Manly Rugby Club, and said this year is all about absorbing all he can from whatever his Super Rugby experience is.

"I'm just training with that 'Tahs at the moment. I'll have to wait one more year to be Australian-eligible and hopefully at the end of this year I'll pick up a full-time contract."

In a question-and-answer segment on the Manly Rugby Club website, Maraki said his favourite thing about rugby is scoring tries and flick passes. With his least favourite thing being when flick passes go to the wrong team.

After the match, Northland ITM Cup assistant coach Derren Witcombe was seen shoulder tapping Maraki but reinforced that nothing Taniwha-related was said.

When the Super Rugby squads were named last week, Dane Maraki's name couldn't be found in the Waratahs line-up.

- Northland Age

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