Ross Wright still has more to give to the Northland jersey, even after paying 100 games for the province. Photo / Tania Whyte
Ross Wright wants to win the elusive Ranfurly Shield and the Mitre 10 Championship for Northland before he hangs up his boots. Photo / Tania Whyte
By Imran Ali
Winning the Mitre 10 Championship is something Ross Wright is yearning for before the veteran Northland Taniwha prop hangs up his boots.
But first up, wrestling the prized Log o' Wood from Hawke's Bay in Napier next weekend would be an ideal springboard to go deep in the Mitre 10 Cup championship — a path the Taniwha have gone down in recent years.
He talks candidly about his career trajectory from his high school days at Rodney College when he cracked into the Wellsford XV as a 17-year-old and has since played 100 games for his beloved province and more than a dozen for the Blues in Super Rugby.
The 34-year-old and his brother, Northland fullback Matty Wright, played their 100th and 50th games respectively in their win over Taranaki in Whangārei last weekend.
The win was probably the aspect of his 100th game he was most pleased with on that special day.
"Didn't think ever to play 100 games. At the time I started, I was pretty happy to be in the team. I didn't really think about it until a couple of years after I played 50 or when I was around 70 odd games I sort of thought couple more years and I could be up there.
"But I never ever thought about playing 100 games when I started. You see the list of centurions, I am the 24th player to make it, and there are some pretty big names there."
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His younger brother might crack 100 games but Wright fears, at 33, Matty's time might run out and the fact rugby was getting "faster and younger" these days.
Their sister, Chanelle, played league for the Kiwi Ferns that competed in the Women's World Cup in the United Kingdom in 2013.
Playing football until he was 11 or 12 in their hometown, Wellsford, but always liking rugby until the brothers decided to try the latter doesn't quite make sense.
"Always liked rugby ... probably the friends I had at the time were playing soccer and we did too and then sort of me and Matt growing up we both liked rugby and we thought we'd give it a try at the same time so that's where it all started."
Wright's first call into the Northland side was in 2008 against Canterbury at the then Okara Park— he sat on the bench the whole year— and made his debut against Wellington at the same venue in 2009.
A Super Rugby contract eluded him until 2018 when he was called into the Blues' squad as an injury cover in pre-season and ended up playing 12 games for the franchise after making his debut in South Africa.
He thought he might get a crack at Super Rugby in 2011 after quite a good year with the Taniwha but it wasn't to be.
The 10-year hiatus between making it into the Northland side and playing Super Rugby gnawed away at him but he's at ease with himself now and has set his eyes on two goals.
Win the Ranfurly Shield and a championship for Northland in the couple more years he reckons he'll play in the Cambridge blue jersey.
"I've played for it twice. I'd like to say we can get it this time but we haven't spoken about it. We still have a big game this week against Southland but it would be really special if we were to win it," he said of the shield challenge.
Northland lost the shield challenge against Waikato in 2013 and against Hawke's Bay two years later.
"I don't know how long it's been since we last won it ... in the 70s when I wasn't even born. It would be a big occasion for the province if we were to win it. It's something I've personally thought about over the years.
"That would be a massive achievement to be able to win that. Just because it's so rare these days to even get a challenge. We've had a pretty good start to the season barring that Tasman game and, if we get a good win against Southland, it will set us up for a good weekend down in Hawke's Bay.
"I can see us making the semis if we continue to do what we're doing and, then, who knows what will happen from there. Ideally, it would be nice to win the championship," he said.
The biggest impact on his rugby career has been former Northland mentor Derren Witcombe who did a lot of one-on-one coaching with him on how to become a better hooker— his favourite position, although Wright plays as a prop.
"My favourite position is hooker but things panned out that way that I ended up playing most of my games at prop and that's where I got the opportunity at the next level with Super Rugby and the Maori All Blacks."
Wright also paid tribute to Bryce Woodward who coached Northland and gave him his first opportunity to play for the Cambridge Blues.
As a prop, he looked up to former All Black prop Kees Meeuws and modelled his game on him. Wright played against Meeuws in 2010 in the Northland v Otago match when Meeuws was coming to the end of his career.
"I think I've still got more to give to this jersey. In saying that, I don't want to be playing just for the sake of playing. I want to contribute to the team and the environment."
He just loves playing rugby for the province he loves, with his best mates.