The odds were staked against the Outkast Hawke's Bay Open Mixed touch team which travelled to the 30th annual Whakatane Open tournament at the weekend.
Player-coach Anaru Bartlett and his troops were a late entry in the open mixed grade after players from the team were hoping to be entered as separate open men's and open women's teams with other clubmates but those grades were already chocka. There was a 20-year age difference between the oldest player, Bartlett, 35, and Jordan Thompson-Dunn.
All but one of the players were related with former New Zealand open men's and under-21 men's rep Bartlett an uncle to five and hubby to another. This can often be a recipe for disaster and domestics.
However the side, which was co-captained by Bartlett and his nephew Ash Robinson, won their 16-team open grade with an unbeaten run in five matches including a 7-5 win against Pearl Jam of Auckland in the final to become the first Hawke's Bay team to win an open grade title at New Zealand's largest open club tournament which this year attracted more than 90 teams.
"We certainly defied the odds. That Pearl Jam team was virtually the Auckland under-21 mixed team," Bartlett explained.
"There were no domestics. We've been playing together for a while now and the fact we're almost all related is a plus because we all know each other so well... besides no one is going to argue with an old fellah like me," Bartlett explained.
Robinson, 20, had an outstanding tournament and finished with 12 tries. The former New Zealand under-21 rep was selected in a 25-strong New Zealand Open Men's training squad to attend a training camp in Auckland next week.
The title was a fitting farewell for his younger brother, Dennon, who travels to Melbourne on Sunday for a two-week trial camp with the Melbourne Storm NRL club. Bartlett is confident Dennon will follow a similar path to another of their cousins, Kiwis league star Tohu Harris.
"I'm not expecting Dennon to be home in the Bay for a while."
While Thompson-Dunn was a regular starter in Whakatane, Bartlett, opted for the impact role.
"When a try was required or some calming influence needed I took the field," Bartlett quipped.
"After this success we know we're going to be targeted at our next tournaments," he said referring to the Brooklyn Battle tournament in Whanganui on January 23 and the Waitangi Day tournament in Hastings.
His side has lost the final for the last three years in Whanganui. Bartlett believed the experience gained in Whakatane would prove beneficial in Whanganui.
"Only four of us had played in Whakatane previously. Some of our youngsters freaked out before the final because we had been warming up on the back fields and when we walked back for the final there were more than 7000 spectators. Fortunately they recovered fast once we had pushed our way through the crowd."
For four of the squad, the Robinson brothers, Thompson-Dunn and Hawks basketballer Mataeus Marsh, it was their second national title within five weeks. Last month they were members of the Te Matau a Maui side which won the under-21 men's title at the Rotorua-hosted national Maori tournament.
The winning Outkast Hawke's Bay team was:
Ash Robinson, Dennon Robinson, Laine Robinson, Talon Robinson, Tiana Kingi, Myer Pakoti, Jordan Thompson-Dunn, Shar Thompson-Dunn, Anaru Bartlett, Jeda Bartlett, Mataeus Marsh, Cortez Te Pou, Elijah Tuavera.