Houkamau seals place in NZ team
Southland's Greg Houkamau will represent his country for the first time when he plays for the New Zealand men's over-40 touch team against Australia in February.
Houkamau was one of just three South Island players to make the 15-man masters team for the Super trans-Tasman series, which will be played in Auckland.
The 41-year-old, who teaches Maori at Southland Boys' High School, stood out for the Southland masters team at the nationals earlier this year and was named in a preliminary 20-man squad.
Houkamau secured his place in the final squad after impressing in the fitness testing component and then performing admirably during the practice games against the New Zealand over-50s and over- 30s mixed teams.
Houkamau was ecstatic to gain selection in a New Zealand touch team for the first time and said it could not have happened without the support of his Southland team-mates.
Southland struggles for numbers at masters level in touch, because of the user-pays nature of the sport and the high cost of travelling to the North Island.
For the first time in four years, Southland fielded a team in the men's masters competition, which allowed Houkamau to catch the attention of the national coaches and selectors.
"If we didn't have a team going up there, it wouldn't have happened," he said.
Houkamau has been involved in touch for the past 20 years, and has previously represented both Otago and Manawatu at representative level.
New Zealand have named a strong over-40s men's team to play their Australian counterparts and Houkamau said they were confident of doing well.
"It's an extremely talented team. For me it's an eye-opener, because I haven't played with that calibre before. I'm quite humbled playing with those guys" he said.
The New Zealand side would be working hard on their fitness during the next three months, with the Australians known for their ability to play at a high tempo for the full game.
Houkamau will train by himself in Invercargill - carrying out gym work and regular runs - to stay in optimum condition. On Thursday nights, he plays four games of touch at the Invercargill module at Turnbull Thomson Park.
The Super trans-Tasman series will be played out over a variety of age groups. Southland will be well represented in the youth grades with Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu and Greg Dyer gaining selection in the under-19 men's side.
Courtney O'Callaghan will also play for the New Zealand under-19 women's side.
Other homegrown Southlanders to be picked in the teams include former Southland Boys' students Hapimana Tohiariki and Ben McKerchar (under-21 men) and ex-Menzies College student Lisa Dyer (under-21 women).
Houkamau hoped to bring the experience he gained with the New Zealand team back to Southland to pass on to the next generation of touch talent in the region.
He has coached at Southland and South Island level in the past and was the manager of the first New Zealand Kotuku under-17 team to travel to Australia in 2007.
- The Southland Times