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Inia: 100 up, he wants more

Inia Katia, taking on the Horowhenua-Kapiti defence, in what he said was Wai-Bush’s worst game of the season. PHOTOS/FILE

Osborne Cup goes on the line


James Goodger [with ball] has been a constant in the Wai-Bush team for Katia
Inia Katia will become the first Wairarapa-Bush centurion in 27 years when he takes the field today against Ngati Porou East Coast in Ruatoria.

The little Fijian has been named on the bench for the vital Heartland Championship clash, and when he does get on the paddock he will join a select group of players who have brought up 100 games for the combined union, the most recent being prop Bryan Styles, who played his 100th first-class game for the province in 1995 in a 38-6 loss to Bay of Plenty in an NPC Second Division match in Rotorua.

Also on the list is Katia’s father-in-law Bernie Lett, who played 116 games from 1981 to 1992, a feat that the 34-year-old hopes to better.

“I always say to my wife [Jenna] I would love to beat that, so another two seasons, and we’ll see how it goes for the next year then,” Katia said.

Brought to New Zealand by legendary Gladstone coach Steve Thompson in 2011 to play club rugby, Katia made an immediate impact at halfback with his Fijian flair and toughness making it impossible for coach Mark Rutene, who was in his first term at the helm of Wai-Bush to ignore.

“We had Zeb Aporo and Matt O’Connor and he couldn’t be left out so I think we brought him in as a third halfback,” Rutene said.

“He was just one of those guys who was always in the thick of the action, so we had to put him somewhere. I was there at the start and I’m here at the 100, so that’s pretty special.”

Over the 11 years, Katia has been part of some outstanding victories but he highlights two losses as his favourite games in the green and red.

“In 2012 we lost by three [23-20] in the Meads Cup semifinal against Whanganui and Mark Rutene was the coach. In 2019 Joe Harwood was the coach and we played North Otago in Oamaru, and we lost by two points [25-27] and we lost the ball in the last attack. We were down and we scored three tries and caught up and almost won,” Katia said.

On this season’s performances, Katia admits there have been disappointing efforts, especially in the insipid 17-33 loss to Horowhenua-Kapiti, the match celebrating 50 years of a combined union, with many of the older players from the early days of Wai-Bush present.

Sam Walton-Sexton, with ball, will start at halfback in place of the unavailable Daryl Pickering.

He said some stern words were spoken afterwards, and since then there has been a turnaround of attitudes and fortunes. The revival gained momentum with last weekend’s 42-30 win over West Coast in Greymouth, which has boosted the team’s prospects of making the Lochore Cup semifinals.

“The way we played last week that was way different, because we haven’t played like that all season, so if we play the same this week we might beat East Coast.

“We carried the ball into contact and got quick ruck for the halfback and the clean-up was pretty good, and we used the outside backs. Tristan Flutey played well at centre and made 10 line breaks and Charles [Mataitai] was pretty good coming back from injuries, and Tafa [Tafa] in midfield and Aseri [Waqa] at the back.

“The backline played well and we had go-forward from the forwards and we read their lineouts, which was pretty good, so the set piece was all good and the backs start moving forward.”

Katia said the return from injury of loose forward and inspirational captain James Goodger made a big difference.

“James is always the one leading, he does the hard yards, he always put his hand up and he leads and everyone follows. It was good for him to come back and get a win.’

Katia said having his good friend Goodger lead the side on the occasion of his 100th match will be special for him, having debuted in the same year. He rated Sam Gammie, who played his 50th game for Wai-Bush against West Coast, and hard-nosed lock Andrew “Sass” McLean as two of the best and toughest players he has played alongside.

Rutene has made several changes to the side that beat West Coast for today’s clash.

Former Tongan international prop Tolu Fahamokioa has returned from a hamstring injury to replace the injured James Coburn, while Andrew Smith and Gammie make up the middle row, and Eddie Cranston starts on the openside flank.

Wai-Bush 2021 player of the year Lewis Bush, now based in Hawke’s Bay, provides cover at prop along with Stan Wright Jnr. The only change in the backline is at halfback where Sam Walton-Sexton comes in for the unavailable Daryl Pickering.

Rutene is confident Wai-Bush can back up from last weekend’s effort, but he is not thinking too far ahead.

“We want to go up there and put on another good performance. We’ve had a taste of it so we want some more now, but they’ll be tough.”

As well as valuable championship points, the Bill Osborne Taonga, the Heartland’s equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield held by East Coast, is up for grabs.

Probable Wai-Bush team

Aseri Waqa, Charles Mataitai, Tristan Flutey, Tafa Tafa, Soli Malatai, Aidan Champion, Sam Walton-Sexton, Jack Loader, Eddie Cranston, James Goodger [captain], Sam Gammie, Andrew Smith, Tolu Fahamokioa, Sam Siaosi, Tupou Lea’aemanu.

Substitutes: Ryan Wilson, Lewis Bush, Logan Wakefield, Jared Hawkins, Fiula Tameilau, Inia Katia, Tipene Haira, Stan Wright Jnr.


Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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