James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rugby: Fans mob hometown heroes

Super title winners the Chiefs 'humbled' as Hamilton puts on a parade.

The Chiefs can do the unthinkable and win three titles back-to-back despite losing some of their most experienced players, says the side's departing captain.

Hundreds of Chiefs fans, most decked out in black, red and yellow, lined central Hamilton's streets yesterday to celebrate their side's second Super Rugby title in two years.

The city held a parade in honour of the team which beat the Brumbies 27-22 at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.

Schoolchildren took time off class and fans waved flags and screamed at their heroes to perform the team's haka - or at least take their shirts off.

Lots of school children turned out for the Chiefs victory parade in Hamilton.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Lots of school children turned out for the Chiefs victory parade in Hamilton. Photo / Christine Cornege

The team's departing co-captain Craig Clarke said the send-off was humbling.

He said there was some sadness from himself, Richard Kahui, Lelia Masaga, Brendon Leonard and Toby Smith who are leaving to continue their playing careers overseas.

"It is a bit [sad], seeing this kind of thing and knowing this is one of the last times I'm with the lads as a group," said Clarke.

"This is what it's all about for us, being able to see what it means to the people of our franchise, it's really humbling and it's a pretty special feeling to see the kids who love you and even adults who go crazy when they see you."

Clarke said despite the loss of senior players and a big chunk of experience the team was in good hands and he didn't doubt the Chiefs could threaten for three titles in a row.

"With the coaching panel we have they will get the best out of anybody who wears the Chiefs jersey," he said.

"We have been planning for the moment when a few of us are leaving and a few of the young guys will be stepping up into leadership roles."

Among the supporters yesterday was 74-year-old Neville Snook of Hamilton, who said he had been watching rugby at Waikato Stadium since 1947. Mr Snook said the Chiefs' title win this year was the highlight of his six decades watching the game in Hamilton.

The Chiefs former top supporter Warren "Possum" Allen, who for more than 10 years was a fixture at Chiefs matches with his chainsaw, said the side was written off by many at the start of the year.

"But one thing I know about the Chiefs and people who live in the Waikato, we are pretty passionate, we like being the underdog and we will hang in there."

Lelia Masaga (left) and Liam Messam address the hundreds of fans. Photo / Christine Cornege
Lelia Masaga (left) and Liam Messam address the hundreds of fans. Photo / Christine Cornege

The team were awarded outstanding achiever's medals by Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker.

"This is a win not only for our city and the Waikato region, but one the whole country can be proud of."

- NZ Herald

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