Pikiao youngsters snapped up by Warriors
20 Sep, 2018 5:30am
4 minutes to read
Pikiao under-15 rugby league players Ngakohu Walker (left), 15, Tome Poona, 15, and Cassius Cowley, 15 have signed with the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Stephen Parker
By: David Beck
David Beck is the Rotorua Daily Post's sports reporter
Secondary school sporting stars are in high demand when they finish school and the race to obtain their signatures is heating up.
Pikiao under-15 rugby league players Cassius Cowley, Tome Poona and Ngakohu Walker have that special something and the New Zealand Warriors have swooped in to sign them on academy contracts.
The three Rotorua Boys' High School 15-year-olds will remain in Rotorua until they finish school but will have training and development opportunities with the Warriors throughout.
Pikiao stalwart Jason Sayers has been coaching the boys since they were in the Pikiao under-5s. They have won multiple age group titles, but Sayers has done everything in his power to keep the players humble and grounded.
Shortly after finding out about their new contracts, he had them refereeing and helping with prize giving at a local junior rugby league tournament.
"It was about the boys giving back to the younger players, but it was also about showing the younger players that there is a pathway in rugby league. A lot of them look up to these boys.
"I'm really happy for them. They are all pretty much leaders themselves, they have a lot of natural ability of course, but also a willingness to listen and learn and take on new skills, that has been to their advantage.
"There are a lot of talented kids running around, but it's the little one per cent things that make the difference."
Tome said he was "excited" about the contract. He played rugby union and league, but had always enjoyed league more.
"I like the physicality of league.
Ngakohu said he was most looking forward to the chance to develop as a player. He started playing only a year ago.
"It's way different, going back 10m all the time on defence. The passing and tackling is a bit different too. It was scary at first but it's cool now."
Cassius said he had been playing league since he was about 6, his dad played and got him into it.
Warriors academy co-ordinator Jordan Friend said the club had been watching the boys for a while and they were among the most talented players of their age in the country.
"They were identified during the Maori Rugby league competition and then the North Island competition – quality competitions both held in Rotorua. These competitions provide really good opportunities for players and we get to see of the best kids outside of Auckland.
"Following that we invited them to a Future Warriors camp up in Auckland where we got to know them a bit more and they spent a day with our staff."
Friend said all three players were standouts and it was crucial to help them with their development early in their careers.
"Cassius and Tome play in the halves and Ngakohu on the edge and we think they're among the best in the country in those positions. For us as a club, we believe we can actively develop them better than any other NRL club, that's the key for them with the plan not to relocate until they finish school."
He said, while talent was obviously a major factor in recruitment, the boys' attitudes and work ethic were closely analysed as well.
"We get to know their families as well and make sure they're supportive, it's all part of the package. Although they're all from Rotorua Boys', that wasn't the sole focus of why we picked them up, but we do have a good history with the school. All the boys that have come from there have really good work ethics and attitudes which is obviously credit to the school.
"We have to acknowledge Bay of Plenty Rugby League, Pikiao and Pacific Sharks, they are products of their systems. It's a talented region and they do a really good job at fostering rugby league, these boys definitely won't be the last from the Bay to join the club," Friend said.
re-uploading the article because my last one wasn't complete