For part three of our Super 8 First XV Championship series, we meet the players and talk to the captains of both the Rotorua Boys' High School and Tauranga Boys' College teams as they hunt for Super 8 glory. Their first hurdle in the competition is each other. In parts one and two of this series on the Super 8 First XV Championship we looked at how and why the championship was set up and how the first XVs have been shaping up and what they think of their chances.
Every great rugby team has a great leader and, this year, Rotorua Boys' High School's Bernie Hati and Tauranga Boys' College's Hunter Dickson are the young men tasked with captaining and leading their respective first XV sides in the hunt for Super 8 glory.
Their first hurdle in claiming that title will be each other. They're set to face off in their first match of their Super 8 campaigns in a televised game on Raukura's home ground on June 6.
With just over a week left before that clash, Bernie, who plays hooker, is in his third year with the Rotorua Boys' first XV and feels privileged to be captaining his squad.
"Being a leader is a big thing for me. You try not to think about it, you try to think about the game itself. I'm not a talkative kind of guy, if I have to I'll do it, but I try to lead from the front."
He said the team still had "work-ons" but had looked good so far during their pre-season hit outs.
"We've still got stuff to learn. A number of us have played together throughout our high school years so we already have that bond. That's the trust we have between each other to get through the 80 minutes that we play. It's really important to us and our coaches that we build that bond really quick for the season. You have to have each other's back."
One way in which Rotorua Boys' have looked to celebrate their team bond was with a pre-season trip during which they played games in France, Italy and Spain.
"It was awesome, the whole reason of that trip was to build that brotherhood with all our new players. We have a lot of young boys who have to step up in this team so building the trust with them was quite good on that trip.
"We're a team that never gives up. We had some losses but we never gave up in the end and finished the job. That's probably our biggest asset."
Bernie said playing in the Super 8 Championship was a good challenge.
"It's never easy playing these high school teams, especially being captain, there's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of leaders in our team, captain is just a title, so I talk to the other leaders and see what they think, let them help me out."
His biggest motivator in attempting to win the school's first Super 8 title since 2001 was paying back the people who have helped him on his rugby journey.
"Giving back to our coaches, our school - it would be a way of paying them back and rewarding them for that.
"Coming from a small town [Murupara], there's not much there, coming here they've really helped me out a lot with dealing with the losses and the pressures of being in the first XV, the ups and downs. They've been through all of that so they're just giving back to us really.
"[The highlight of schoolboy rugby] is definitely playing with your mates. It's going to be hard to find a bond like that after you leave school so have to make the most of it now."
Rotorua Boys' High School start their Super 8 campaign against Bay of Plenty rivals Tauranga Boys' College on June 6. It will be the 100th time the two first XVs have played each other and Bernie said it was a game the players "always look forward to".
"They've got a strong pack this year, I've heard, so it's going to be a good game. You have to block out all the outside stuff and just play the game."
Tauranga Boys' College first XV captain Hunter Dickson is excited about the potential of his team this year. He plays second five and it is his third year in the team.
"It's looking really good this year, we've got quite a few players returning from last year's first XV and quite a few young bucks as well. The team's bonding well and we're looking positive for Super 8 so far.
"Our forwards are looking really good this year, a lot of them have returned from last year and we've got some good weapons in the backs as well.
"It's an honour, there's a lot of pride to represent your school as the captain. You definitely have to take a step on the communication and talk to all the boys about things - discipline them before they get disciplined by the referee, you have to take charge of that and tell them what's going wrong."
He said the team has picked up some good wins during pre-season, including a 48-0 win over Frances Douglas Memorial College last weekend. However, he was well aware the Super 8 Championship would be as tough as ever.
"It kind of catches you by surprise when you come up from under-15s, it's a lot tougher than that. It's a real big step up, there's a lot more physicality, even compared to the pre-season games, and there's a lot more pressure with it being such a big competition and with rivals like Hamilton and Rotorua.
"Going up against them, throughout my school career Rotorua have always kind of been the big brother so it's fun going up against them, especially with it being televised this year over at their school.
"It's about 20 years since we won our first [Super 8 Championship] so there's a big focus on that."
Rotorua Boys' High School First XV Squad
Haruto Takahashi, Zac Ririnui, Nirai Ririnui, Brett Henry, Jack Henry, Bernie Hati, Dayna Bidois, Te Ahurei Epapara, Scott Leone, Stuart Leach, Nikki Jacobs, Hemopo Cunningham, Kahurangi King, Tukimihia Simpkins, Tamakaimoana Whareaorere, Kane O'Connor, Bless Elliott, Cassius Cowley, Austin Anderson, Tome Poona, Manu Akauola, Kahlil Aldworth-Bidois, Jayden Kingi, Te Hemara Gardiner-Toi, Kalem Strickland, Manu Paea, Junta Hamano, Carlos Karaitiana, Ceiza James.
Tauranga Boys' College First XV Squad
Kai Murase, Flynn Henderson, Lucas Cashmore, Levi Gourlay, Josh Bartlett, Jayreeve Mose, Jayden Green, Zach Murray, Ethan Gardiner, Slade Baker-Taingahue, Caedin Taumata, Fletcher Wright, Josiah Lewis, Veveni Lasaqa, Jed Jager, Kaharoa Takuira-Mita, Hunter Dickson, Chad Roberts, Chayse Harley, Ryan Nicholson, Finley Davenport, Campbell Lucas, Rayn-Hard Peka-Tekuru, Ryan Bosselmann, Logan Marshall, Dylan French, Jake Mckean, Taratu Mankelow, Jack McManaway, Melino Fotu, Harry Shaw, Kyle Martin, Kirwin Te Hiini, Brayden Dew, Connor Redmond, Sloane Lankshear, George Mano, Dante Gardiner, Josh Baxter, Curtis Palmer, Dan Peleti, Tyzak Rhind, Oliver Robinson, Nike Toomey, Carwyn Williams.