Hoeata's new approach reaps rewards
If Highlanders forward Jarrad Hoeata was given a report card from the past couple of seasons, the comment section would probably have read ''does not play well with others''.
The 30-year-old Taranaki lock/flanker has had so many yellow cards waved at him for penalties ranging from high tackles to ruck offences that he had become a walking cliche of the rugby ''enforcer''.
Hoeata thought he was doing the right thing, but after sitting down with Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, and his Taranaki and New Zealand Maori coach Colin Cooper, the Tauranga Boys' College product decided it was time to change his ways.
''I had a pretty bad year last year in regards to [penalties]. I had to really look at my game. I think it was just my mindset, I thought I was doing the team a favour by trying to spark the defence but in doing that I was giving away too many penalties and costing the team.''
Hoeata believes he had also become a target for officials.
''I think my name was out there and I put that on myself. I was doing things that other guys were getting away with, but I was getting pinged for them, that's what it looked like in the reviews.''
The turning point came in last year's NPC when he received two off-field yellow cards at the start of the season.
''That's when I thought, enough is enough. Since then I've been carded once and that was for a team penalty. Even my penalty count is down, I've only given away one penalty in the last five games.''
The impact has been immediate.
Hoeata looks to be the leading contender in a competitive Highlanders locking group that includes Brad Thorn, Josh Bekhuis, Joe Wheeler and Tom Franklin and there are hopes that he could even rediscover the form which saw him play three tests for the All Blacks in 2011.
''I've got a totally different mindset going into games, still being really aggressive, but not getting involved in any of the carry-on has definitely helped my game in the two games we've had.''
Joseph agrees that Hoeata's new approach is reaping rewards.
''He's showing that when he can control that he can be a very effective player - so much so that he became an All Black in one season. To his admission he's fallen off the tracks in the last season or so and now he's getting back to where he was two seasons ago. The result from that is that we've got a very determined football player that wants to be the best he can be.''
The Highlanders have made a couple of changes for tomorrow night's game against the Western Force in Dunedin.
With Patrick Osborne still out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, Kurt Baker comes on to the left wing to allow Malakai Fekitoa to move back to the midfield.
Fekitoa made an impressive start at centre against the Blues but struggled on the wing against the Chiefs and Joseph said that had been recognised by the coaching staff.
Shane Christie and John Hardie will share the flank duties in the only change to the forward pack, with Gareth Evans dropping out of the squad.
HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (co-captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Kurt Baker, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (co-captain), Shane Christie, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves; Ged Robinson, Matias Diaz, Craig Millar, Josh Bekhuis, Elliot Dixon, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Phil Burleigh.
- The Southland Times