How typical and predictable a reply it was when Hawke's Bay's Warriors rugby league star Tohu Harris was quizzed this week about a possible return to the Kiwis team in 2019.

"That's the aim for next year if selected. I've got to play well for the Warriors first," Harris replied during a four-day festive-season visit home with wife Natalie and two-year-old son Harlan.

It's obvious Hastings Boys' High School product Harris, 26, is still as humble as he was when he left the Bay in 2009 to link up with the Melbourne Storm. He played the last of his 16 tests for the Kiwis in 2016.

Injuries or rest periods have prevented him from playing for his country since then. It's no secret that had versatile secondrower Harris been available the Kiwis would not have been losing quarterfinalists in last year's World Cup.


His class as well as composure and discipline in pressure situations was missed big time. He is one of an elite group of Kiwis who have played in three consecutive wins against the Kangaroos - 30-12 and 22-18 victories in 2014 and a 26-12 win in 2015.

Harris was among the spectators when the Kiwis pipped the world champion Kangaroos 26-24 in Auckland in October.

"The boys played with a lot of energy for the first time in a while. It was good to see," Harris said.

An NRL Premiership winner with the Storm last year after experiencing defeat in the grand final the previous year, Harris, completed his first season of a four-season contract with the Warriors this year. He made 17 appearances in which he scored two tries, made 588 tackles and clocked up 1975 running metres.

Ngati Kahungunu's 2010 Junior Sportsman of the Year, Harris, said the first segment of the Warriors pre-season training finished on December 21 and will resume on Friday. He was happy to report the knee injury which nagged him during part of this year has disappeared.

"While my entire body is sore from pre-season training that is to be expected."

He believed long-serving Warriors and Kiwis scrumhalf Shaun Johnson's move to the Cronulla Sharks won't hurt the Warriors as much as some pundits are claiming.

"We've still got a lot of ability. It's important we continue to work as hard as we can during pre-season trainings. As players we don't have any part in those sort of decisions ... we have got to move forward. The signs are still promising and it's still exciting times for the club."


A former Tamatea league and union player, Harris, made 117 NRL appearances for the Storm. Among his highlights with the club was playing in the 2015 win against the Dragons at Napier's McLean Park, the first NRL match to be staged at the venue.

He helped design the Storm's playing jersey for the match and the Storm players visited his home club at Waipatu Marae. He has heard talk suggesting the Warriors may play at McLean Park during the next couple of seasons and he predicted it could attract more fans than the 13,000-strong crowd which attended the 2015 encounter.

"That would be really exciting for Hawke's Bay because there are lots of Warriors fans here. They would be pumped for that one so it would be interesting to see if it happened."

Harris believed the McLean Park facilities are more than adequate to host another NRL clash.

"The Storm boys raved about our visit here and loved playing on the field as well as the places we stayed at," Harris recalled.

One of six children in his family, four males and two females, Harris, said it was the first time in five or six years they had all been home for Christmas with parents Dale and Paul. It was clear he relished the occasion and his batteries have been recharged.

Expect Harris or "Big T" as he is known to Warriors fans to be just as lethal for the Warriors again next year as he was in 2018. A Kiwis recall should be a formality providing he is injury-free.

Harris pointed out the Warriors coaching staff has been impressed with the progress made by former Hawke's Bay Sevens rugby representative Neria Fomai during pre-season training. Hawke's Bay's 2016 Club Rugby Player of the Year, Fomai, 26, earnt a three-month trial with the Warriors after performing well for Bridge Pa at the National Maori Rugby League tournament in Rotorua at Labour Weekend.

He is competing for one of three fulltime contracts as well as one of three development contracts.

"The coaches are impressed with what Neria has done in a short time. The fact he has stuck with it shows he is willing to work hard. You can see he wants to learn so much about the game and stays behind after trainings to get more info," Harris added.

It's easy to picture the Warriors running out onto McLean Park in 2020 with both Harris and Fomai in the playing 17. Their respective immediate families would almost fill three bays in the main stand, yes the appropriately named Harris stand, and depending on the opposition there is no reason why a crowd of 15,000 couldn't show up for the clash.
Let's hope that 2015 encounter isn't a oncer.