Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Future sports stars celebrated

Youngsters know the importance of hard work ... and of giving back to those who helped them along the way.

George Muir, guest speaker Terenzo Bozzone, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Sophie Williamson, Cameron Webster and Mary Fisher.  Photo / Dean Purcell
George Muir, guest speaker Terenzo Bozzone, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Sophie Williamson, Cameron Webster and Mary Fisher. Photo / Dean Purcell

Sydney Roosters rising star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is only 19 and already giving back to his community.

The teen, who made his NRL debut for the Roosters last season, plans to donate his prizemoney from the Herald Future Stars of Sports awards to his old school, Otahuhu College.

The league star was yesterday recognised alongside five other top young sports achievers at the annual awards luncheon in Auckland, but was unable to attend the event as he is in Sydney preparing for this weekend's clash against the Bulldogs.

Also honoured yesterday were Paralympic swimmer Mary Fisher, women's sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong, cyclist Sophie Williamson, rower Cameron Webster and Black Sticks midfielder George Muir.

Peter Thompson, a teacher at Otahuhu College who accepted the award for Tuivasa-Sheck, said the teen's willingness to gift the $1500 prize to his old school was typical of his giving nature. "It's a lovely gesture - but that's just the sort of kid he is, he's always willing to help out," he said.

"He's just a normal kid. He's never had a big head - there's no ego about him. He's a great role model for South Auckland kids."

Mr Thompson, who manages the college's first XIII league side, said the money would go towards jerseys and training gear for the team and he hopes to have Tuivasa-Sheck's name embroidered on them as a constant reminder to the players of what can be achieved if they work hard.

Webster and Muir know the benefit of hard work - although they weren't always known for it.

The pair attended the same playcentre in Greenhithe as tots, and 14 years on their families met up at the awards lunch.

"They were the naughtiest, cheekiest of boys - and we were so judged by the other parents," laughs Webster's mother Penny.

Webster, who won gold with the men's coxed four at last year's world championships in Bulgaria, is one of the stand-out athletes of the next breed of top young rowers. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond.

"Watching all the amazing things [the New Zealand] rowers achieved at the Olympics was such a huge inspiration for me, it's definitely motivated me knowing that if I work hard I can achieve that for myself."

Fisher knows the glory of standing atop an Olympic podium.

The 20-year-old said her selection in the Paralympic team for London last year cemented a dream she had been working towards for 10 years.

Fisher, who had the additional challenge of adjusting to life and her sport with a deteriorating eye condition, which had her classified as fully blind last May, went to London hoping to set personal bests.

She returned with a gold (200m individual medley), two silvers (100m freestyle and 100m backstroke) and a bronze medal (50m freestyle), and set Oceania and world records.

Cyclist Sophie Williamson also had an impressive 2012 season, collecting silver medals in the points and scratch race at the junior world track championships. This year she has been hampered by a series of injuries, crashing out of a track meet in Melbourne in January. Williamson will head off to the US this year to compete with professional women's team Vanderkitten, as she aims for the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

Also gunning for the Olympics in 2016 is Tyla Nathan-Wong, one of the stars of the women's sevens team.

Nathan-Wong scored two tries in New Zealand's 41-0 win over South Africa in the final of first round of the inaugural IRB women's sevens world series in Dubai last year, earning herself a reputation as one of the most exciting young players on the circuit.

"With sevens now being an Olympic sport it just makes you push that much harder at trainings. It's definitely my dream to go to Rio."

Talent to burn

Mary Fisher (swimming):

"To be a part of the Paralympics and bring medals home for my country was just an amazing experience. Things were really low-key before London - now there is public expectation thrown on you, but that is good for me and good for Paralympic sport."

Tyla Nathan-Wong (rugby sevens):

"With sevens now being an Olympic sport it just makes you push that much harder at trainings. It's definitely my dream to go to Rio."

Sophie Williamson (cycling):

"Riding on a professional women's tour is such a huge opportunity to develop my cycling further."

George Muir (hockey):

"Being selected in the [Black Sticks] squad was huge for me. My goal this year is to push for my first test."

Cameron Webster (rowing):

"Watching all the amazing things [the New Zealand] rowers achieved at the Olympics was such a huge inspiration for me. It's definitely motivated me knowing that if I work hard I can achieve that for myself."

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (league)

Former teacher Peter Thompson says: "He's just a normal kid. He's never had a big head - there's no ego about him. He's a great role model for South Auckland kids."

- NZ Herald

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