Te Awamutu area representatives are making names for themselves across Australasia with seven players named in squads ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
Te Awamutu Sports rep Taha Kemara and former Sports players Gideon Wrampling, Malachi Wrampling-Alec, Richard Judd, Josh Moorby and Austin Anderson have all grabbed contracts for 2024 or beyond, along with one-cap Ōhaupō midfielder Ngane Punivai.
Kemara, Wrampling, Wrampling-Alec and Austin Anderson all represented the Waikato NPC province in 2023, while Judd was with Bay of Plenty, Punivai with Canterbury and Moorby with Northland.
All Super Rugby Pacific sides announced their squads throughout the day on Thursday.
Te Awamutu Sports premier assistant coach Shaun O’Connor spoke to Brian Kelly on NZME’s The Country Sport Breakfast.
“Congratulations to all those young lads obviously fulfilling dreams that I’m sure a lot of them have had since being young boys. We’re born with a rugby ball here in New Zealand,” O’Connor said.
“[It’s] exciting to see those boys progress on. I think what we’re seeing here is a product of creating a pretty sustainable pathway for these young lads.
“We’re kind of in that stage at the moment recruiting for the 2024 season, speaking to a lot of these young guys coming out of schools, they all aspire to be professionals. Seeing that happen before them with this cohort is very inviting.”
Gideon Wrampling, Malachi Wrampling-Alec - Chiefs
The St Paul’s Collegiate alumni transferred to Hamiton Old Boys in 2023 and both played for the Waikato NPC squad.
Wrampling-Alec wasn’t selected in the initial Waikato team but had a barnstorming debut season, grabbing three tries in nine outings.
Older brother Wrampling made his Super Rugby debut in 2021 and has two Super Rugby caps to date. Although unlucky with injuries, he has been a mainstay for Waikato in recent years.
McMillan said they see that in time, with the right support, Wrampling-Alec can be like the next Pita Gus Sowakula.
“[He has] the raw potential. He’s a young man but he’s blessed with a lot of athleticism and size. He was a really strong performer when he got his opportunities for Waikato. A player with a huge upside who we’ll manage really carefully. We don’t want to throw him to the wolves too early but certainly a player with immense talent,” he said.
“When we lose a player like Pita Gus, they’re not easily replaced but I think guys like him, Wallace Sititi and Simon Parker - [they’re] big boys that, with the right development, can fill those boots.”
There are nine current All Blacks featured in the refreshed Gallagher Chiefs side, eight new signings (seven of them rookies) and two familiar faces that make their return; first five Kaleb Trask, following his sabbatical season in Japan, and prop Reuben O’Neill.
New signing Jimmy Tupou will bring a lot of experience, having run out for 54 Super Rugby games with the Crusaders and Blues, on top of the last five seasons he has played in Japan.
“He actually caught our eye when there was a game of four halves, the annual Chiefs Country Centurion Cup, in Te Awamutu earlier on this year. We knew he’d come back into the region, playing for Counties,” McMillan said.
“We watched him there and thought he was aggressive, clearly a leader of some substance, great lineout IQ and just about everyone that we spoke to spoke about him in glowing terms. It was unfortunate that halfway through NPC he broke his finger and it limited his involvement. He’s got great versatility. He has the ability to play eight, six and lock.”
In contrast to this experience, props Kauvaka Kaivelata and Sione Ahio, loose forwards Wrampling-Alec, Tom Florence and Wallace Sititi, midfielder Daniel Rona, and utility back Liam Coombes-Fabling secure their first fulltime contracts in 2024.
“These guys have been knocking on our door for a while now and we are excited to offer them a place this year,” McMillan said.
“They have been impressive throughout NPC and during their time in our environment, so rightly earn their spot within our squad.
“It’s a new-look squad for us but despite the changes, there remains a lot of continuity within this group. They are familiar with our environment, know how we do things, and bring a lot to the table.”
New Zealand Under-20 representative Ahio is the only rookie named, who will run out in Chiefs colours for the first time in 2024.
He will line up alongside Chiefs Development XV players Kaivelata and Sititi, and New Zealand Under-20 and University of Waikato Chiefs Under-20 standout Wrampling-Alec.
No strangers to playing in Super Rugby, Florence and Coombes-Fabling are former injury replacement players for the Highlanders and Chiefs.
Similarly, Rona made the most of his time as an injury replacement this season to solidify himself at this level.
“We can’t replace the experience that we’ve lost from this season, but we have a lot of belief in the men we have selected. We are looking forward with anticipation to seeing them take their opportunity in the new year,” McMillan said.
“We’ll be putting in the work over summer and can’t wait to kick off the season at home in front of our loyal fans.”
Richard Judd, Josh Moorby, Ngane Punivai - Hurricanes
Further south, the Hurricanes have swept together a cluster of former Te Awamutu region reps.
Former Te Awamutu Sports players Moorby and Judd have both re-signed for the 2024 season - Judd after missing Super Rugby Pacific 2023 while in playing for Major League Rugby side, the San Diego Legion.
Utility back Ngane Punivai has also picked up a contract in windy Welly, returning to his place of birth.
“It’s always exciting to have new players and the energy they bring to the team. All the coaches are looking forward to welcoming the new players to the club, getting to know them, and integrating them into how we want to play,” new Hurricanes head coach Clark Laidlaw said.
“Within the new players, we have some players who are new to Super Rugby, as well as others who have played at this level before, which again we think can add to the depth of our side.”
Taha Kemara - Crusaders
With Richie Mo’unga departing New Zealand and Fergus Burke under an injury cloud, Taha Kemara could claim the first five-eighths reins for the Crusaders to start 2024.
The 20-year-old Te Awamutu Sports pivot is in his second season down south with two Super Rugby matches under his belt.
Kemara will likely compete for the 10 jersey with former Chiefs rep Rivez Reihana and possibly Welsh legend Leigh Halfpenny.
In 2022, Te Awamutu Sports gave Kemara captaincy straight out of the Hamilton Boys’ High School First XV, proving his leadership qualities at a young age.
Following on from his 13 Waikato appearances over 2022-2023, he will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
Austin Anderson - Brumbies
Across the Tasman, Kemara’s Hamilton Boys’ High School, Te Awamutu Sports and Waikato teammate Austin Anderson has been named in the 2024 ACT Brumbies squad.
Anderson has been promoted from the Elite Development Squad (EDS) after a successful year in the John I. Dent Cup for Wests Rugby Club.
Anderson also returned to New Zealand, making his Waikato debut and claiming the number 12 jersey as his own.
He appeared eight times for the Mooloo men, scoring two tries.
The youngster joins a raft of former and current New Zealand NPC reps in Canberra, including Andy Muirhead, Jack Debreczeni, Jahrome Brown, Ollie Sapsford, Sefo Kautai and Tamati Tua.
Jesse Wood is a multimedia journalist based in Te Awamutu. He joined the Te Awamutu Courier and NZME in 2020.
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