Star athletes a joy to work with

Soli Malatai on the charge for Lochore Cup finalist, Wairarapa-Bush. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

A thriving new netball complex, a Lochore Cup final appearance by Wairarapa-Bush and the start of a much-needed youth boxing academy are just some of the highlights of what has been an incredible sporting year in Wairarapa.

I was planning to put together a review of the highs and lows of the sporting year in this region, but a look back at the events that have taken place quickly showed that the highs would significantly outweigh the lows.

So instead, I decided to look back at some of the most memorable and amazing sporting moments that have occurred, and what made the sporting year so special for me.

Netball complex opens

There are far too many highlights to fit into one story, but one of the most important for this region would have to be the success of the 2018 netball season at the new complex on Colombo Rd.

I had followed this project for a large part of the journey, and to see the complex full to the brim each Saturday with supporters and netball players of all ages was great.

Shyanne Aporo in action for Harcourts. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

There is no doubt next season will be even better, especially once the new surface is completed.

Wairarapa-Bush

Not many would have predicted [myself included] that Wairarapa-Bush would make the Heartland Championship Lochore Cup playoffs, let alone go within a few metres of snatching victory against Horowhenua-Kapiti in the final.

Credit has to go to Joe Harwood and his coaching staff, as well as the players, for putting together such a successful season on the back of a disappointing 11th-place finish last season.

They have developed a host of young talent and will be looking to build on that base next season.

Winger Soli Malatai’s record-breaking five-try haul in the round-robin match against Buller will be fondly remembered by all those who were in attendance.

Boxing academy

A visit to the Wairarapa Boxing Academy leaves you in no doubt that it is doing wonderful things for the youth in the community.

The boxing is just a side effect of what the academy is aiming to achieve, as they strive to help young men and women become better people, not just more talented boxers.

Dalefield hockey

Watching Dalefield Hockey Club’s premier men’s and women’s teams go toe-to-toe with the best teams in Wellington was a clear indication of how strong the sport of hockey is in Wairarapa.

Led by Black Sticks representative Dane Lett, the men made it through to another premier 1 final, only to fall short against Hutt United.

The women’s team finished fourth in the premier 1 division but played most of the season with a young team that could produce some future stars in years to come.

Modest stars

One thing that makes a sports reporter’s job much easier is when people are happy to give their time to talk about their respective sports and teams.

One of the first things I noticed after moving to Wairarapa in 2016 was just how modest and humble most of the region’s leading athletes are.

I have battled through interviews with national and international athletes who gave the impression they would rather do anything in the world than talk to the media, but it never felt that way with Wairarapa’s star athletes.

The likes of Lett and Black Caps cricketer Seth Rance were always more than willing to chat to the Times-Age, even when they were busy preparing for big matches or international tours.

Mahoney’s magic

Seeing everything Rebecca Mahoney has achieved this year alone has been staggering.

The Wairarapa rugby referee has broken barriers and continued to thrive at the elite levels of the game.

She capped off 2018 by being named to officiate two Women’s Six Nations matches next year, in a season that already saw her become the first woman to referee a men’s first-class match in New Zealand, among other things.

Women’s cricket

It seems that every time the Central Hinds or Central Districts women’s representative age group teams play, most of the squad are Wairarapa players.

Simon Roseingrave and Melissa Hansen of the Wairarapa Cricket Association have obviously found the right formula to ensure there is a pathway for women to reach the top levels of the sport in Wairarapa.

Having the Wairarapa Korus team playing Central Districts regional cricket certainly helps, and there are plenty of players who can be expected to feature at the highest levels of the game in the future.

That is just a snapshot of some of the events and moments that will stick with me from the 2018 sporting year in Wairarapa, and I have no doubt 2019 will be even bigger and better.