Greytown’s Rocco Berry made his NRL debut this year against the Melbourne Storm. PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
It was another utterly frustrating year for the Warriors and their fans alike having missed out on a finals berth for a third straight season.
Even more damaging to the soul was that it was with a particularly star-stacked side.
Yet, if there were any shining lights to come out of 2021 for the Auckland-based side, Greytown prodigy Rocco Berry would undoubtedly be one of them.
The former Greytown Rugby Club player had eight games and scored three tries in his rookie season in the National Rugby League [NRL], which is some effort considering Berry had never played a game of rugby league in his life before 2019.
He was recruited by the Warriors that same year after starring for St Patrick’s Silverstream College’s First XV side in Wellington’s premier secondary school rugby competition.
Less than two years later, at the age of 19, the son of former All Black Marty Berry saw himself making his debut, lining up against NRL champions – at the time – Melbourne Storm in this year’s Anzac Day clash.
A day Berry said he would remember for all the good and terrifying reasons.
“It was really good to be able to make my NRL debut but it was really tough,” he said.
“The physicality of playing against some huge players was something I wasn’t used to coming straight from school. I’m really glad I got through it in the end, but I was pretty sore at the end of it too.”
Berry said the physical factors and the pace of rugby league were the biggest challenges for him to get around coming into the NRL.
“The physicality of the game is easily the hardest thing. I finished every game pretty battered and bruised so I really need to get used to that.
“It’s also a lot faster [to rugby]. I can’t really compare it to Super Rugby, but going from school level, there are a lot more stoppages in union than in league. It’s pretty much non-stop and it goes pretty quick. It’s definitely a lot quicker than union.”
Berry’s game-time tally took a big hit just as he was getting into the groove of it all, set back by a couple of hamstring injuries which understandably brought the former Greytown Primary School pupil some unwanted frustration.
“Those injuries were really annoying,” he said.
“I had played three or four games the first time then got a hamstring injury. Then I came back and had another two games and got injured again. I got to play the last two games, which was good, but it ended up being a stop-start season for me.”
Despite the loss of game time through those injuries, the Warriors narrowly missing out on a finals berth after losing some crucial games towards the end of the season was undeniably the most painful part of the year for Berry.
“It ended up being a very frustrating season for myself and the team,” he said.
“We had a few games that were close where we got a bit unlucky at the end. If we had won, I’m confident we would have found ourselves in the top eight.”
With the season now over, and with Kiwis star centre Peta Hiku having moved on to the Cowboys and Euan Aitken now preferred in the second row, one of the centre positions looks to be Berry’s for the taking.
However, he doesn’t see it firmly in his hands yet, saying he still has to earn the right for the position.
“I don’t see myself as the [automatic selection] for centre,” he said.
“I’m still green and raw to the game, and Adam Pompey’s still there and there’s some young boys there too, so there’s a bit of competition for spots.
“During pre-season, I’m going to have to keep working hard and keep learning and getting better if I want to have a position in the team next year.”
Asked if he still saw a future in rugby after recommitting to the Warriors, signing a contract extension until 2024, Berry said he wouldn’t rule it out, but that his main focus was on rugby league and the Warriors.
“I never say never, but I haven’t really thought about it to be honest.
“I’m here for another few years and it’s something I’ll probably think about later on, but I’m definitely loving league, learning all about it and being part of this side.”
Due to covid-19 restrictions, the Warriors will base themselves again across the ditch for the 2022 season, which will mean it’s almost been a year since Berry was last in Wairarapa.
But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten where he’s from.
“I’m through and through Greytown,” he said.
“Have a lot of friends there still and definitely proud to be from there.”
Berry said he’s now looking forward to some much-needed rest before pre-season training starts next month.