When Reporoa twins Luke and Troy Thomas broke their backs in a head-on crash four years ago, doctors were amazed they survived, let alone walked again. But it is their love of rugby that has inspired the boys to get back on their feet. Four years later, the 13-year-olds have jointly been awarded Junior Sportsmen of the Year for the Waikite Rugby Club after having remarkable seasons on the field. Journalist Kelly Makiha tells their miracle story.
Reporoa twins Luke and Troy Thomas are alive, can walk and are now champion rugby players with real dreams of being All Blacks.
All of those things are miracles considering they survived a horror smash nearly four years ago that should have killed not only them, but their mum and sister too.
The 13-year-old twins have just been named Waikite Rugby Club Junior Sportsmen of the Year, quite an achievement considering they broke their backs in the crash and weren't expected to walk again.
But that was never an option for the boys. They love rugby and their passion for running on the field again has driven them to a miracle recovery.
The twins are now playing well above their age groups and have dreams of going all the way to the black jersey.
The Reporoa College teens, older sister Michaela Roberts and mum Ruth Ashby were in a car that crashed head-on into another car that crossed the centreline on December 2, 2015, in Taupō.
It was seatbelts that saved the family's lives, but they all suffered horrific injuries and took months to recover.
Luke and Troy snapped their backs, with Luke suffering more severe injuries, breaking his upper and lower spine and suffering a torn bowel.
Ashby was the most seriously injured and spent months in a wheelchair but has since learned to walk again.
The crash happened on the Napier-Taupō Rd after the family was heading back to Reporoa from Taupō.
The last thing Ashby remembered was Roberts saying, "look at this idiot", as the car in front crossed the centreline.
The driver of the other car pleaded guilty to four counts of careless driving causing injury and has been sentenced.
Today the twins play in the Waikite U13s, the Reporoa College U15s, Central Bay of Plenty U13s and they made the U16 Bay of Plenty team.
The twins' father, Kelvin Thomas, said there was never any doubt in his mind his boys would play rugby again.
"It was their sole motivation to just get back and play rugby. If it wasn't for rugby, they wouldn't have had that drive in them."
According to Thomas, doctors said at the time they had never seen such determination in children their age, who were 9 at the time of the crash.
"I know they probably say that all the time but they said there was something special about them. One of the surgeons even came down and watched them play rugby and was blown away. There's only one way they play and that's full noise."
Thomas said he was super proud how far they'd come.
"They are just determined, strong-willed, hearty country kids."
Thomas, who himself played senior premier rugby for Waikite, said despite Luke still having rods in his back, he was happy for them to play.
"I still shudder when you see them tackled hard ... but the surgeon said it was all good."
"They are focused and as long as they have the desire, they will do well. We don't have any Xboxes or Fortnite at home; they are just farm kids. They can go out and milk 60 cows by themselves."
Ashby credited the twins' father for where her boys were at.
"He has worked really hard throughout their entire lives, not just being a great dad but working hard to help pursue their dreams of being future All Blacks. They were both born with rugby boots on, I reckon. Since they could walk and talk, that's all they would talk about. And their biggest idol as youngsters was Ritchie McCaw."
Ashby said her sister and mum would go to their games if Ashby couldn't make it as a result of recovering from the crash.
"You always heard 'gooooo mokopunaaaaa' from the sideline."
She said their number one fan was their great grandmother, Nanny Norma, who died in March this year.
"She loved and adored the twins and was always proud of them. And we tell them to play for Nanny Norma with heart and passion; it's all about whānau."
She said the twins dreamed of being All Blacks.
"Slowly but surely they will get there."
Luke said it was a big honour to win the Waikite Junior Sportsmen of the Year, which was presented at the club's senior prizegiving on August 24, because it was announced in front of all his whānau.
Luke said he always knew; despite the fears, he would play rugby again.
When asked why he loved rugby so much, he simply said: "Because I am god at it."
Troy said it was a huge honour to be recognised for rugby.
"I knew I'd be back out playing. I love rugby because of making friendships, learning off older players and supporting and encouraging younger players like my little cousin."
Waikite Rugby Club stalwart, family friend and Waikite U13 assistant coach Mike Miller said the boys were "uncompromising and tough".
"They have a skill set of senior players and a mental toughness that you just can't coach into young men of their age."
He said they were also driven by a good support network of family who were all passionate about the game.
"And with all the space in the world on the farm, you won't find them tucked up in their rooms with video games but out there with ball in hand, practising."
Miller said when he thought back to the crash, it was a miracle they had come so far.
"When we saw the boys on the hospital beds, I was sure it would affect their ability to perform basic body movements. To see them bounce back and perform like they do week in week out is unbelievable."