Thames Valley hooker caps off season with Heartland XV call-up

By Campbell Burnes

Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

A breakthrough season has just got bigger for Hayden Wisnewski.

The 24-year-old Thames Valley hooker not only won a McClinchy Cup club championship with Waihou, but he assumed the captaincy of the Swamp Foxes, led their tryscorers with four during the Heartland Championship, took the team's player of the year gong, and to cap it all is in the New Zealand Heartland XV for their three-match tour over the next week.

Tomorrow Wisnewski starts in the No 2 jersey in their opener against New Zealand Marist at Papakura's Bruce Pulman Park, the home of the Ardmore-Marist club, before the Heartland XV head to Fiji for two matches.

"I'm definitely satisfied. It's been a testing season, as such, but I thought we (Thames Valley) took some good steps as a team. I had a good Heartland campaign and to make this team is good reward. It's an opportunity to get away and have a crack with some better players," says Wisnewski, who is grateful to his employers at Hamilton's Work and Income New Zealand office for giving him nearly two weeks off to travel with this team.
"It's good to get out of the office and get some sun," he jokes.

Thames Valley missed out on the Lochore Cup playoffs, so Wisnewski's last game was the October 15 fixture against Poverty Bay.

"They do keep you in the loop, but there's no knowledge about getting in the team until it's named, so it's up to you to train in that time. For me, it was good to get a couple of weeks under my belt not doing a lot, so that's freshened me up coming into camp."

His provincial coach Hayden Roe, who is on this tour as the strength and conditioning coach, clearly put in a good word to the Heartland XV selectors.

Assistant coach Mutu Ngarimu was sufficiently impressed.

"He was on the radar last year but was unlucky. He does his core roles well and is a good team man as well. He just kept on performing week-in, week-out, regardless of how his team was performing," says Ngarimu, who coached Poverty Bay this season.

Mid Canterbury's Jackson Donlan is the other hooker in the squad.

Wisnewski has clear expectations about his role in this national team. He is an action man, rather than talker, by nature anyway.

"I need to get my core roles right and the rest will take care of itself. It would be nice to get to the tryline, but there are other big boys who can carry in this pack," he says.

He will pack down next to North Otago skipper Ralph Darling, one of an extraordinary eight provincial captains in this Heartland XV squad.

Wisnewski knows conditions in Fiji, once they have done the business tomorrow, will be challenging.

"That'll be another different element, a bit of heat, but the boys are fizzing to get over there. It'll be humid and sweaty, so that'll test everyone's skills a bit more."

Wisnewski is not the first quality Thames Valley hooker out of the Waihou club.

Roger 'Psycho' Wilton played more than 100 games for the province in the 1990s, and then coached the Swamp Foxes several years ago. He was somewhat lighter - at not much more than 85kg - than the solid Wisnewski, and played with an admirable 80-minute vigour that belied his size.

"He was the drawcard that took me to the Waihou club. He's a good man. I used to live with his nephew," says Wisnewski.

- NZ Herald

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