As rugby league fans look forward to finals time, Edward Rooney meets an up-and-comer making his mark in the Sharman Cup.
Tyla Hepi has a recipe for rugby league success which would get the job done in any code: "I play hard every week and do my best."
The 18-year-old back rower has an eye on performing well for his Pt Chevalier Pirates teammates while also casting an eye further afield to the future. "Hopefully I'm going to do things like probably go to England this year [and] get into the Warriors under-20's."
Rugby league is in the family. Tyla's dad is Brad Hepi, a hooker who played 18 games for the Illawarra Steelers in the Australian national competition - then called the Winfield Cup - in 1996. Brad also represented New Zealand Maori and made lasting impressions on the park for Hull FC and Castleford in the English comp.
"My dad played rugby league back in his days," Tyla shrugs. "So, it's just sort of passed on to me. I've been playing since I was five."
Fast-forward a dozen years or more and Tyla Hepi is gearing up for finals footy with the Pt Chev Pirates in the 2011 SAS Sharman Cup, Auckland's second grade rugby league competition.
Having transferred from Glenora Bears under-18s at the start of the year, Hepi's decision to switch clubs has paid dividends, with the Pirates being top qualifier at the end of the regular season.
Hepi points out it was the opportunity to be coached by Kiwi legend Stacey Jones that initially drew him to the club, as well as the chance to learn from the former New Zealand Warrior. "Stacey directs the team really well - he's a good coach," he says.
The youngster cemented his position in the starting 17 over the course of the season and is now targeting a Grand Final win to top off the first part of a busy season.
Tyla is also a member of the 2011 Auckland Secondary Schools champions, Mt Albert Grammar. That team came up with one of the biggest upsets in recent school rugby league history by overcoming perennial favourites St Paul's College, 6-4, to win the Nigel Vagana Shield.
Mt Albert Grammar will have a shot at becoming national schools champions after entering the 2011 tournament to be held at Papakura's Bruce Pulman Park.
The tournament will run over five days and will feature 16 school teams from all around the country, including St Paul's, the reigning champions.
Having to train three times a week and play two games in the same time frame, you would be excused for thinking Tyla needs a break, but quite the contrary.
"I love playing in the big games. The challenge gets you pumped," he says.
With his schedule fully booked for the remainder of the month, Tyla is one of only a handful of rugby league players playing both premier and school footy at such a high level.
A 2010 Auckland 17s player, Tyla is hopeful his showing for both the Pt Chev Pirates and Mt Albert Grammar will propel him to higher honours with the possibility of securing a contract with an NRL club. Here's hoping the Warriors scouts are watching.
Play the ball
Pt Chevalier Pirates will play either the Bay Roskill Vikings or the Mangere East Hawks in the Sharman Cup final on August 20. The Pirates defeated Bay Roskill 38-2 in the SAS Sharman Cup major semifinal last weekend to proceed directly on to the final.
The Vikings will meet the Hawks this weekend to decide the other finals berth. The final will be played on Saturday, August 20 at Mt Smart No1 at 11am.
It will also be televised on Maori TV.
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The 2011 New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby League Nationals will be on August 22-26 at Bruce Pulman Park, Papakura.
Games will also be televised through a Sky TV highlights package.
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