Southland's Mana Harrison's new lease of life

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014
Mana Harrison
Fairfax NZ
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Former Southland winger Mana Harrison is enjoying a second rugby life with Bluff.

After 13 seasons and four Galbraith Shield titles with Star, the 33-year-old joined a well-beaten path from the Waverley Park premier club to the portside, where he is loving his time in Southland's division one competition.

"Going to Bluff has given me a pick-me-up and that extra motivation to keep playing as long as I can. Playing all these country teams is an awesome environment. The clubrooms are packed and stuff like that. Premier has a good comp, but rugby is only as good as the environment it creates after the game," Harrison said.

"I didn't want to leave [Star]. I suppose the main reason for my decision was that I'd lost my passion for the game. I was playing the same people twice a season and I knew their strengths and their weaknesses. You knew exactly what you were in for and there was no spontaneity or worrying about what someone was like. You miss that, and I hadn't had that for years."

Harrison had been part of a successful era for the Star club, a period where the club was based around several influential families.

"I don't remember the last time we didn't make the semifinals, it was about 10 years ago. It went from the Harrisons - Jason and Bernie - to the McHughs and the Muliainas and the Rutledges, but everyone is getting older."

Since stepping down to division one, Harrison admits he's been surprised at the quality of rugby below the premier competition.

"The physicality is still there, you know when you've been tackled," he said with a laugh.

"The first 20 or 30 minutes is like any premier game, the only thing is the last 20 minutes you know you've dropped down a grade. The passion is still there, people are there to win - no matter what team, no matter what grade."

Harrison represented New Zealand at under-19 level for two years, and was the team's equal leading tryscorer at the 2000 junior world championships in France, a team which finished third after losing a penalty shootout against Australia in the semifinals.

That John Boe-coached side included future All Blacks Corey Flynn, Daniel Braid, Brad Mika and Mose Tuiali'i.

Harrison made his debut for the Stags in 2003, playing 28 games and scoring eight tries over the next four seasons, and was recalled briefly in 2010.

Throughout that time he's been one of the most elusive players in Southland club rugby and Harrison looks back on his playing career with plenty of fondness.

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"I'm pretty rapt and I'm just going to keep playing until my legs give way or they fall off, or until someone tells me I can't play - but even then I'd push the barriers and try to keep playing."

Away from the game, Harrison keeps fit by running a new type of gym which focuses on general physical preparedness in a supportive, team environment.

"That's awesome, just giving something back to people at all different levels. We've had Keanu [Kahukura] turn up and his mother Rita, who has got five kids and is 40 years of age and they were training together. You had someone who is playing for the Stags and he was motivating her and it was really cool."

Harrison is also motivated by his work as a probation officer, a job he started just over a year ago.

"I'm loving the job, it's really good. Again it's giving back and supporting the community and making the community safe. With my past I've had experience with people who have got on the wrong side of the law. I see the good in people and everyone's got a good part inside of them, no matter what, and I suppose this a good opportunity to bring it out in a positive way."

- The Southland Times

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