League golden boy switches code for Wainui

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 10:01 28/04/2012
Marvin Karawana
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ
TIMES CHANGE League stalwart Marvin Karawana, with partner Trista, and son Ziah. He recently returned from Australia and is currently playing club rugby for Wainui.

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By rights, the subject of any story focused on Marvin Karawana should be rugby league.

Steeped in the game, Karawana was part of a golden generation of Wellington players.

Eleven of his champion 2004 Wellington under-18 team signed contracts with NRL clubs upon leaving school, with Karawana one of the eight who were already Junior Kiwis.

Simon Mannering (Warriors), Issac Luke (Rabbitohs), Sika Manu (Storm) and Sam Tagataese (Sharks) are all still playing first grade. But, for the short-term at least, Karawana's future lies in Wellington club rugby's Swindale Shield competition.

Having left Wainuiomata for the Canterbury Bulldogs as an 18-year-old, Karawana was eventually recruited to the Newcastle Knights by then-coach Brian Smith. Five injury-riddled seasons and 33 games later, Karawana found himself surplus to requirements once Wayne Bennett succeeded Rick Stone at the Knights.

"It sort of dragged out for a few months," Karawana said.

"It was: `Yes, we'll sign you' and then, at the end of the day, they decided they couldn't fit me in. We sort of looked at other clubs but it was the same situation and just a lot of mucking around. After a few months I got sick of waiting around with no clear answers, so we just moved home."

He, partner Trista, and baby boy Ziah, have settled in Khandallah. But when it came to pursuing his sporting career there was really only one code worth bothering with and one club that he had played for.

So eight years after his last game of rugby, at St Bernard's College, the 25-year-old is starring at second five-eighth for his beloved Wainuiomata.

"I grew up in Wainui, so that's where my heart is," he said.

In four games, Karawana has scored two tries and also picked up the maximum three best and fairest points for his performance in Wainui's 12-5 win over Poneke, last Saturday.

There's also been the unexpected bonus of playing outside Piri Weepu, in three of those games.

"We used to play footy together growing up, just in the backyard and that, so to be able to play proper rugby with him has been good. I've enjoyed it," said Karawana.

His knowledge of the rules are a bit rusty and the games are played at a vastly different pace to the NRL. But Karawana's performances have attracted the attention of Wellington coach Chris Boyd and hopefully a few others as well.

"I'd love to play ITM Cup – that's what I'm aiming for now that I'm playing rugby," he said.

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"The opportunity to play for any ITM Cup team, and to see how far I can go, would be awesome. There's quite a bit of depth in the midfield in Wellington, so the opportunities are not as great and that may mean having to go somewhere else."

Karawana can't, hand on heart, say that he's played rugby league for the last time. He'd jump at the chance to return to the NRL but, with a family now, it's not just about what might suit him.

A five-eighth or centre, when he left for Australia, Karawana eventually found himself in the forwards. He was at five-eighth, though, for his first starting appearance in the NRL, when he marked Brisbane Broncos great Darren Lockyer. "I've never watched that game and it's not one that I try to remember," Karawana said. "Our side wasn't the strongest that day and we lost 71-6." Hopefully his memories of this afternoon's Wainui-Tawa game will be better.

In the other matches, Ories host Upper Hutt, Norths travel to Wests, OBU are at home to Rimutaka, Hutt Old Boys' Marist and Marist St Pat's meet at the Hutt Rec and Poneke and Petone play at Kilbirnie Park.

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- The Dominion Post

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