Joel Winterburn has had to wait a long time to be awarded his Horowhenua-Kāpiti blazer for playing 25 representative matches.
The 31-year-old loose forward from Rāhui made his debut for Horowhenua-Kāpiti in 2011, playing nine games in his first season.
But an overseas rugby sojourn later that year took him to Perth, Australia, and there he stayed for seven years playing senior club rugby, driving delivery trucks through the day, and playing with and against a host of expatriate Kiwis and South Africans.
"It was a good experience. A few of us [from Ōtaki] went over and played rugby and worked. It was a good standard of rugby, too," he said.
And hot. Winterburn said some games were played in searing heat, well over 30C, which meant there had to be a break every 20 minutes for drinks. It was a long way from the frosty training runs under lights at Rāhui Domain.
But there is no place like home, and Winterburn returned to New Zealand at the beginning of 2018, reuniting with his beloved Rāhui club and regaining a spot in the Horowhenua-Kāpiti Heartland team, playing eight Heartland games that year.
But with Covid-19 curtailing the Heartland championship last season, it had taken Winterburn that wee bit longer to reach his blazer game.
To be selected again this season was a continuation of the good form that won him Horowhenua-Kāpiti Heartland Player of the Year and also the Horowhenua-Kāpiti Māori Player of the Year award in 2020.
It meant a lot to him as his grandfather Mike and Uncle Anzac had both played for Horowhenua Māori. Anzac (Nu) Winterburn had also represented New Zealand Māori as a lock forward.
The Winterburn family were staunch Rāhui and Horowhenua-Kāpiti supporters and attended most local games.
"They give me plenty of advice," he said.
But the Winterburn whanau won't be at Levin Domain for the game tomorrow. Unfortunately, because of Covid-19 Level 2 restrictions, no spectators were allowed at the venue.
The same rules applied to the HKRU Women's competition that started at Playford Park on Wednesday night, and age grade representative games (U16, U18 Girls and U18 Boys games) this weekend.
But do not despair, HKRU were doing their best with limited resources to live stream the North Otago game on Saturday, complete with live updates from the ground by Foxton commentator Nathan Paki.
Supporters were able to watch a live stream of HK's 28-21 win against West Coast in Greymouth last week, a win made more meritorious considering eight players were making their representative debut.
Kenan Gillson, Benedict Grant, Tautau Kapea, Andrew Knewstubb, Ash Robinson-Bartlett, Daniel Smith, James Gilland and Simon Butler all wore the red, white and blue for the first time.
That match also represented the 50th game for HK prop Dave McErlean, who gets another chance of the bench tomorrow.
NZ Sevens rep Andrew Knewstubb switches from centre to fullback, with Leon Ellison and Taurtau Kapea pairing in the midfield. Ryan Shelford captains the team again at lock.
Meanwhile, HKRU has moved next week's game against East Coast from Ōtaki Domain to Levin Domain, as the region remains in Covid-19 alert level 2.
KICK OFF: 2.30pm
HOROWHENUA-KĀPITI: 1 James Gilland. 2 Bryn Gordon. 3 Robin Praat. 4 Ryan Shelford (Captain). 5 Daniel Smith. 6 Joel Winterburn. 7 Aaron Lahmert. 8 Benedict Grant. 9 Jack Tatu-Robertsson. 10 Ash Robinson-Bartlett. 11 Lennix Tovo. 12 Leon Ellison. 13 Tautau Kapea. 14 Himiona Henare. 15 Andrew Knewstubb. 16 Dave McErlean. 17 Scott Cameron. 18 Simon Butler. 19 Connor Strang. 20 Thomas Barnsley. 21 Connor Paki. 22 Hamish Buick.
Head Coach: Chris Wilton. Assistance Coach: Aleni Feagaiga. Manager: Tom Zimmerman. Assistant Manager: Matt Harvey. Physio/Strapper: TBC & Debz Jackson. Video Analyst: Nick McVeigh.
NORTH OTAGO: 1 Kelepi Funaki. 2 Sam Sturgess. 3 Tristan Fuli. 4 Ben Morris. 5 Aron Einarsson. 6 Oliver Kinzett. 7 Toni Taufa. 8 Mosese Aho. 9 Jake Matthews. 10 Abel Magalogo. 11 Sione Fa'aoso. 12 Tainela Samita. 13 Hayden Todd. 14 Levi Helluer-Atiga. 15 Levi Emery. 16 Jake Greenslade. 17 Lisivani Tuifua. 18 Cameron Rowland. 19 Manulua Taita. 20 Ben Paton. 22 Mataroa Maui.