Wedding visit leads to 200 matches

He only came to Blenheim for a mate's wedding, but 12 years later he's still in town and tomorrow at Lansdowne Park Onolevu Temo plays his 200th premier rugby game for his beloved Central Blues.

One of the most popular players in the province, Temo's consistency and aggressive, full-on approach are legendary.

He's only ever twice been kept off the field through injury, once playing for Marlborough against his native Fiji when Marika Vunibaka accidentally poked him in the eye, and again when he broke his thumb playing against Pelorus at Canvastown.

Central premier team manager Warren Cairns did most of the research into finding out Temo had played 199 games and said they included pre-season matches.

Temo had no idea he'd reached such a milestone. "Nev [Central coach Neville Saul] told me last week after we played Nelson. I thought, `oh true'. I have been thinking about it all week since. It makes you feel old. I only came out to Blenheim from Suva for a wedding and sort of stayed here."

Temo recalled how fate intervened.

"I was coming here [Blenheim] for three weeks to a month. The bus driver gave me Charlie Timoko's, and Bill Matthews' numbers. The wedding was not until the following weekend so I phoned Charlie and said, `any chance of coming to training?'

"I trained on Tuesday for the senior A side. Then the week I was supposed to go back to Fiji, George Speight took over in a coup, so I extended my visa here for a month, played for Central senior As for three weeks and never looked back."

His first premier game was against Moutere and fittingly it's the Magpies he runs out against for his 200th match. As well as 200 matches for the Blues, he's played more than 80 games for the Red Devils, starting in 2002, mainly as an attacking midfielder with bone-crunching defence.

Temo's attitude to the game is simple. "I approach every game the same. If you go in half-hearted you get injured. If you don't go hard, go home."

He's played for Central through good times and bad, but, even when the team has been down, he has never considered changing clubs.

"I love the Central club and the people in it. They've always looked after me. They have been faithful to me. I'm proud to reach 200 games. I've been blessed with few injuries."

Temo's coach Saul has been around Marlborough rugby all his life and paid a glowing tribute to his stalwart midfielder on the eve of tomorrow's game.

"I first ran across Ono when I was coaching under 14s or 15s. He used to come along most nights for half an hour and take the backs for me and he was playing prems then. He'd just jump in and help out and is still doing that now.

"He comes down to the under- 16s before our training and helps out. His knowledge of the game is huge. At our coaching sessions we go with most of his ideas.

"He's very highly regarded everywhere. He's great to have in the team and never lets you down. If you had 15 Onos in your team you'd be a happy coach. He's probably the strongest and most respected club player I've come across. To our team he's huge."

Temo lines up at second-five tomorrow and, as always, Moutere's midfield defence will be hard pressed to contain him. At 33, there's still a fair few miles left on his rugby odometer yet.

Cairns said the club would present him with a commemorative jacket and playing jersey to mark the special milestone at around 6.30pm at the Central clubrooms.

The Marlborough Express