When All Black Nathan Harris last played for Te Puke Sports, he thought he was clocking up his 50th game for the club.

A miscalculation meant it was just his 49th game. Now he hopes he will get the chance to clock up his half century this winter.

It will have been a long wait - and due to the uncertainty of if and when club rugby will be played in 2020 - exactly how long is an unknown.

Harris last played for his club in an April 2017 Baywide rugby win over Rangataua, his first game back after a ruptured ACL.


In line with Chiefs management's request, he was subbed at half time.

''It will definitely be cool to try and notch it up this year - to give thanks to sponsors and supporters of the club that has helped me along my journey for the last 13-odd years

''I wouldn't be in the situation I am in now if I didn't have the support of Te Puke Sports and also the sponsors and supporters that have helped me to get here.''

For the vast majority of his rugby career Harris has been a Te Puke registered player. But he isn't quite a quite a one club man.

''My father [Quentin] was out at Eastern Districts in Paengaroa and I played one year there in the under 5s and the following year I played soccer for Te Puke FC. It was the year after that that I moved to Te Puke Sports.''

Among his earliest memories are being given 50c by his father for each try he scored, and cold mornings.

''There was always a trip down to Mount Maunganui to go and play some rugby and I played a few tournaments at Waipuna Park in Welcome Bay.

''In my junior years I used to play rugby because it was fun, but it was more because I got to hang out with my mates that I went to school with so it was about going to each other's houses afterwards and making a weekend out of it.''


While the Harris family was from Sanson near Feilding, Harris was born and raised in Te Puke.

''We used to have a bach out at Pukehina Beach where we used to spend our summers so to spend our summers out there was pretty cool

''I was at the surf club at Maketū for a few years and then moved to Pāpāmoa Surf Club.''

Nathan Harris, left, the surf lifesaver, representing Pāpāmoa Surf Club with Mitchell Leaming at a junior surf workshop at Mount Maunganui main beach in 2005.
Nathan Harris, left, the surf lifesaver, representing Pāpāmoa Surf Club with Mitchell Leaming at a junior surf workshop at Mount Maunganui main beach in 2005.

He also had a shot at the Maketū-Motiti swim.

''That was when I was 13 or 14 - that was pretty tough to try and complete that. I didn't finish it - I only got to about half way.''

He says he has happy memories of the whole area.

''It's pretty special for me to be close to the beach. I love my diving and fishing and stuff.''

Harris says Te Puke Sports has helped shape the person he is today.

''It is a very community-based club,'' he says.

As a developing player there were plenty of tournaments and rugby trips to attend, including a trip to the UK while in Year 13, all of which cost money.

''They were always willing to help me out trying to find me work or selling raffle tickets.

''I went to Te Puke Primary and Intermediate schools then went to Tauranga Boys' College and even when I made that transition people were always very accommodating and there was a lot of fundraising. People from the club were always willing to help me in any way that was possible.

''I'm very appreciative of that and it's part of the reason why I'm affiliated to the club. It's also how I grew up - having the same attributes of the club and trying to bring them into my personal life - helping other kids out who are struggling or lending a hand wherever I can.''

It was while at Tauranga Boys' that Harris began to see rugby as a career. It was also where he switch to playing hooker.

''To be honest I was probably a bit of a late bloomer. I played no 8, blindside flanker and sometimes [in the ] midfield backs, right up into high school and it wasn't until Sam Cane and Carl Axtens came to our school, and they were New Zealand secondary schools players, that I thought, if I want to play then I'll have to try and change position or make myself a bit more adaptable to get myself on the field.''

He switched to hooker in 2010 and set his sights on the Chiefs and New Zealand secondary school sides.

''I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do, but I wanted to start giving rugby a proper go.''

He missed out on a spot in the national secondary schools side, but made it to the Chiefs schoolboys.

''So that was the year that I sort of thought maybe, if I put my mind to this, it could really take off.''

The following year was a big year.

''That's when I put my hand up for the New Zealand under 20s in a year or so which was pretty cool.

''I was probably very lucky in the position I was in when I left school to go back to Te Puke Sports and play against senior men. It was a massive stepping stone and to be selected in the BOP development team which was another opportunity.''

Nathan Harris makes a break for Te Puke Sports in 2017 - his 49th appearance for the club.
Nathan Harris makes a break for Te Puke Sports in 2017 - his 49th appearance for the club.

He made it into the New Zealand Under 20s squad for the 2012 world championship in South Africa, the same year he debuted for the Bay of Plenty Steamers. He made his All Black debut two years later, off the bench in a Rugby Championship game against Argentina.

So far 2020 has been a year of recovery. Even before the Super Rugby season started, Harris was a non starter. After breaking his ankle during a Mitre 10 Cup game against Auckland, he also had surgery on a troublesome shoulder over the summer.

''I've been running since lockdown and it's been feeling pretty good.

''It's actually been alright being in lockdown because I can bang out my rehab at home and I don't really need too much gym equipment or all that carry-on.''

Whether he gets on the paddock or not this season will depend on Covid-19 and progress with the injury - but he hopes to clock up that 50th game for his home town club.

''I'm unsure how Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 Cup will pan out but hopefully will be able to get one or maybe a couple of games when club rugby can go ahead.''

He hopes that will be the first step to regaining his All Black jersey after missing out on national selection last year.

''I was pretty gutted about last year. It seemed the there was a snowball effect - missing out on the Rugby Championship, missing the World Cup, then snapping my ankle and the shoulder injury.

''Obviously [All Black selection] is at the back of my mind but for now it's trying to get back into playing and just making sure my body's in a good position so I can potentially put myself in the position to put the black jersey on again.''