Rugby: Move up north brings dividends for Harbour recruit

By Campbell Burnes

Murphy Taramai of North Harbour. Photo / Getty
Murphy Taramai of North Harbour. Photo / Getty

Murphy Taramai headed north at the start of 2016 seeking an opportunity at North Harbour.

Down the pecking order at Wellington, where he played just one game for the Lions in 2014, the 24-year-old has done rather more than just fulfilling his contract.

In fact, he has played every minute of Harbour's eight games and is as high as third on the carry stats behind Luke Whitelock and Akira Ioane. So central is he is to Harbour's industrious pack effort that he may well have thrust himself into Super Rugby contention.

Not that the man himself is putting all his eggs in that basket. He has sevens to fall back on as an option, having played four tournaments for the national team in 2014-15, and he is doing an electrical apprenticeship which he started when he arrived at North Harbour. This is a bloke who does the hard yards and takes nothing for granted.

"To be given this opportunity is unreal. I was struggling down in Wellington. North Harbour gave me the chance to play some good minutes and I've loved every minute of it," says Taramai, who has a two-year deal with Harbour.

He has been central to helping Harbour to the cusp of the semifinals and was close to their best forward in the Shield defeat to Canterbury. He has, indeed, been one of their best in several games this season.

Despite some sterling club form for Upper Hutt Rams in Wellington, Taramai could not get much of a look in, as the likes of Victor Vito, Brad Shields and Ardie Savea barred his way at the Lions.

"Wellington had some awesome loose forwards but I couldn't even make the bench," he says candidly, though without a hint of bitterness.

He follows in the footsteps of another Wellington No 8 who made Harbour his home. Mat Luamanu, now plying his trade with UK club Harlequins. Luamanu knew his way to the tryline, with 18 dots in 24 games for the union from 2010-11, but was not always as effective going backwards. Taramai does the yards both with and without the ball, though he has yet to record a five-pointer.

Taramai enjoys the Harbour culture. They are very serious when it comes time to switch on, but the laidback nature of yesterday's captain's run indicates that an undercurrent of fun is never far away from the surface.

"They really welcomed me in. (Wing) Afa (Fa'atau) came up from Wellington as well. The culture is awesome," he says.

It will be time to switch on tonight at home against the Makos, and Taramai knows the onus will go on the pack to match the Tasman intensity and chalk up a fifth win at their QBE Stadium fortress.

Steve Jackson likes forwards who roll their sleeves up and hook into their work.

"His work-rate is phenomenal and he's working well with (openside flanker) Connor Collett. The thing I'm most pleased about with Murphy is his ability to carry or make tackles, then bounce to his feet and get back into the attack or defence line so well," say Jackson.

"He's got great hands and he can pass off either hand. He's not the biggest but he plays like he's a giant."

Jackson, now the assistant coach of the Blues, believes he is good enough for Super Rugby in 2017.

"Being a professional player and putting on a few extra kilos will do him the world of good. But he has to keep going (for the last two games). Super Rugby coaches like players who put their hands up at the back end of the season," Jackson says.

*Live commentary of the North Harbour-Tasman match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm tonight.

- NZ Herald

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