Kicking the monkey to touch

At 2pm on March 19, a dozen boys in maroon and yellow sports uniforms huddle on a sideline at Albert Park, completely absorbed in their coach Matiu Paraone’s words.

Experience has prepared the Te Awamutu Intermediate teacher well for this moment.

Matiu Paraone pictured with Hunter Te Huia-Crean, left, and Malakai Christie. Photo: Larn Berge Photography.

“You’ve got to be calm, as a coach, and I think I’ve learned that over years,” he said.

Originally from North Harbour, Paraone completed an education degree at The University of Waikato before taking a job at Te Awamutu Intermediate 10 years ago.

A former junior representative and club rugby player, it was then that, after suffering “too many injuries”, he decided to trade his boots for a coach’s whistle.

That year, he took a Te Awamutu Intermediate boys’ team to victory at the Waikato Intermediate and Middle Schools touch rugby tournament.

A second win had eluded him ever since – although he had come tantalisingly close.

“In the course of the nine years we’ve made two finals but we’ve always missed out and either been runners-up or finished third, fourth or fifth,” he said.

“I tell you, it’s been nine years’ worth of heartbreak at the WIMS touch tournament.”

But last week, Paraone finally “got the monkey off the back”.

After heading to the Waikato Intermediate and Middle Schools touch rugby tournament at Albert Park with high hopes, his side won pool A against Cambridge, Matamata, Berkley and Morrinsville before advancing to the final against pool B winner Maeroa Intermediate School.

Two-nil down shortly after the start of the second half, Te Awamutu put in a gutsy effort to score twice before the final whistle, sending the match into extra time.

“I’ll tell you what, when it went to two-nil I was a little bit – I wouldn’t say worried – but when you’ve lost enough games and you’ve won enough grand finals, you sort of just know how to go to work, or what players to get on, or what plays to run and just sort of offer a bit of advice to the kids,” Paraone said.

Hunter Te Huia-Crean and Ryan Phillips (centre) celebrate winning the Waikato Intermediate and Middle Schools touch rugby tournament with their Te Awamutu Intermediate teammates at Albert Park.

Overtime began with only four players per side on the field, but when the scores remained locked at 2-2 each team lost another player and the game went to sudden death.

Hosea Heke-Heays, who had been outstanding on attack with his slicing runs through Maeroa’s defence, sealed victory for Te Awamutu when he ran wide left and dived over the line.

He was immediately swamped by teammates and supporters, who rushed the field whooping and cheering.

Asked how it felt to score the winning try just minutes later, the 12-year-old described it in one word: “good”.

“I was just tired, that’s all,” he said.  “I wanted it to finish, so that’s why I did it myself.”

The team collectively put their victory down to “teamwork, Matua Matiu, and all the support”.

Paraone said winning after nine long years “almost felt like a relief, really”.

“It felt like a long time coming…and you could see on the kids’ faces the look of elation,” he said.

“If there was ever an abstract noun poem it’d be: elation is winning the WIMS touch tournament.”

After coaching junior, school, club and representative touch rugby and rugby union teams over the past 10 years, Paraone said a highlight was being appointed head coach of the Waikato Rugby Union’s U16 boys’ development side in 2023.

He said he had been appointed to the same role again this year and was looking forward to the season ahead.

  • Te Awamutu Intermediate’s girls’ touch rugby team coach Kryton Collett said his team had done “extremely well” at the Waikato Intermediate and Middle School’s touch rugby tournament, placing fifth out of 10.  He said the team’s star player was Gemma Bowler who scored six of the team’s eight tries.


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