Pride of Ōtorohanga now an All Black

Chiefs rugby star Cortez Ratima is now an All Black and the news has his family and friends thrilled, but not surprised.

As a “motocross crazy” boy, rugby was his second sport. He learned ball skills before school age, according to his dad, rugby coach Peter Lee Ratima.

Cortez Ratima with fellow new Chiefs All Black Wallace Sititi. Photo: Chiefs Rugby.

“He would have excelled at motocross. But we chatted about it when he was 13, and I suggested he pick one of the two.

“You can’t be good at everything, but you can be a master of one thing.”

Cortez chose rugby and went on to play for Ōtorohanga, Waikato and the Chiefs.

His ambitious long term plan paid off: to become an All Black. On Monday night he was named in Scott Robertson’s first All Black squad.

They had “a pretty good idea” it would work  – and 2024 was the year expected.

“Ninety  per cent of the new All Blacks halfbacks were picked at age 22, 23” Ratima said. Cortez turned 23 on March 22.

Why is he a special player? He’s “precise” and he’s got all the attributes.

“He’s physical – not shy to get in and put a big hit in on a forward.”

But his speed sets him apart.

“He’s got gas.”

He built his running skills in his teens with athletics coach Barrie Jennings, his dad said.

The halfback, “Tez” to his family, grew up in Piopio; Peter Lee Ratima has spent much of his career farming in the Waitanguru and Mairoa districts.

After spending time in Taranaki and Australia, Cortez played for Hamilton Boys High –  he needed the “challenge and exposure” of a bigger school. Cortez’ rugby hero was fellow Waikato and Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Cortez Ratima excelled for the Chiefs this season. Photo: Chiefs Rugby

Throughout his playing career, Cortez was supported by excellent coaches, including Waikato and All Blacks staffer Andrew Strawbridge.

After finishing school, he intended to play for Marist. But when Ratima got a job coaching for Ōtorohanga, that changed.

“Tez phoned and said, can I play for you Dad?”

Cortez, who excelled in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific season, follows in the footsteps of the club’s past All Blacks: distant relation Phil Coffin and Neville Thornton, who played from 1947-49.

The latter is a technicality – Thornton had played for Ōtorohanga while working there briefly as a schoolteacher, becoming an All Black later with Ponsonby. Really, Coffin was Ōtorohanga’s first All Black.

Many pundits’ crystals balls foresaw Ratima becoming an All Black for the last year… for them also, it was a case of when not if.

Ōtorohanga club president Merv Carr said it was “the talk of the town.”

“It was a privilege to have him play for us – we’re so proud.”

Cortez “lifted up the rest of the guys in the squad. He’d start practicing his passing, and it would be infectious, the others would join in.

“When you push yourself, you push others along without having to say a thing.”

In a sense, he was “the next cab off the rank” to become an All Black.

Talismanic All Black Aaron Smith is now in Japan. Next in line Cam Roigard is sidelined with a knee injury.

Cortez’ strong Super Rugby Pacific form saw him earn selection.

He is the King Country’s second recent All Black, with Taranaki player Josh Lord before him, although the big lock forward is sidelined by an ankle injury suffered with the Chiefs.

What’s next? Cortez is now at camp with the likes of fellow halfback TJ Perenara.

“One hundred percent he’ll be learning a lot there,” Ratima said.

Cortez has also become a dad in the last year – to Kyvie, now nine months old, with partner Pip.

Cortez Ratima excelled for the Chiefs this season. Photo: Chiefs Rugby

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