James Goodger. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

James Goodger’s main priority was just to get through the 2018 season injury free, but it has ended up being one of the most memorable years of his rugby career.

Coming back from shoulder surgery would be daunting enough in itself, but Goodger also had the added pressure of being handed the Wairarapa-Bush captaincy at late notice after regular captain Cyrus Baker was ruled out with an Achilles injury in a pre-season match.

Fast forward a few months and things have certainly happened quickly for Goodger.

As well as leading the team to last Sunday’s Lochore Cup final, he also brought up 50 caps earlier in the season and was the sole Wairarapa-Bush player named in the New Zealand Heartland XV.

Goodger came off the bench for the Heartland XV in Thursday night’s 60-0 win against Vanua XV in Taupo.

They will play their second and final match tomorrow at the same venue, against a New Zealand Marist XV.

Goodger said he never expected this season to unfold the way it has.

“Making this team is everything – it’s what you push for and what you work hard for all season.”

Goodger said he knew very little about the Vanua XV before Thursday night’s match, but had no doubt they would be a tough opponent.

One of the drawcards of playing for the Heartland XV was the ability to team up with players who have been rivals throughout the Heartland Championship season, and that was something Goodger was keen to embrace.

“It’s really cool.

“You get to play against them and then you get to play with them, and build lifelong friendships as well.”

The Heartland XV had a limited preparation for Thursday night’s match, arriving in Taupo on Tuesday and going through a couple of light trainings a day to get themselves ready for the match.

Goodger said making the team had capped off a memorable season.

“After coming back from shoulder surgery, I’m just happy with where I’ve ended up.

“I’ve gone injury free so far which was the main goal, and I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Wairarapa-Bush lost their first four matches under Goodger’s captaincy, but he was proud of the way they had turned their season around.

“We were really proud of that – once you start winning, it lifts everyone and the supporters jump on board.

“It was bloody good and we’re in a good spot for next year.”