Swimming with the shiver: behind the scenes with the Taranaki Sharks gallery

It all begins in the clubrooms at Clifton Park.
Sam Scannell

It all begins in the clubrooms at Clifton Park.

A world away from the limelight of the NRL, a group of league-playing men display the qualities that make sport great. Sam Scannell and Christopher Reive spent some time in the Shark tank.

Hold. Hold. Rush.

The call echoes around Waitara's Clifton Park as the Taranaki Sharks run through their drills.

Train with purpose - always with purpose.
Sam Scannell

Train with purpose - always with purpose.

At a glance, this could be a group of guys out on the paddock for a casual game of rugby league.

There's no training uniform for the Taranaki regional team, so a wild array of sleeve lengths and colours takes to the pitch under the fluorescent glow of floodlights.

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Trainer Greg Davies lays down the law during training, while Cruz Rauner, left, listens in.
Sam Scannell

Trainer Greg Davies lays down the law during training, while Cruz Rauner, left, listens in.

There's rust on the goal posts, little to no grip left on the balls, dirt is smeared along the white walls of the changing room and cobwebs dangle from its ceiling.

Some of the guys are lucky to get an hour's down time on a training day, with work during the day, then practice as the sun falls away.

This is provincial rugby league. No money, few resources, fuelled by passion and sustained by grit.

Tieimi Ransfield takes pride in representing Taranaki.
Sam Scannell

Tieimi Ransfield takes pride in representing Taranaki.

As one of the inner circle put it, "we don't get s...," and that is true except for what they get from each other.

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Take the Taranaki provincial rugby team and the resources they receive for example and the contrast becomes apparent.

A vibrant stadium with first-class facilities as opposed to a humble, but proud, clubroom in Waitara. 

The Taranaki Sharks train under the floodlights at Waitara's Clifton Park.
Sam Scannell

The Taranaki Sharks train under the floodlights at Waitara's Clifton Park.

The minimum salary for a player in the Taranaki rugby team is $25,000 for 10 weeks of work, with marquee talents fetching a higher pay packet.

For the Taranaki rugby league team, it's a struggle just to get petrol vouchers to pay for the players' gas to get to training. 

The reality of the situation is that work and family commitments can, and has, cost players a spot in the Sharks programme. 

Trainer Greg Davies discusses a drill with the team.
Sam Scannell

Trainer Greg Davies discusses a drill with the team.

So, when they have training in Opunake, at least a half hour drive for many in the team, and only six players can get there, they make do. No slacking off. No less intensity in the session. The six on the pitch give it their all regardless.

Under the watchful eyes of coaching staff Alan Jackson, Greg Davies and Noho Parata, they train until sweat drips from their foreheads.

They breathe like dragons under the moon in temperatures well below 10 degrees Celsius as they encourage one another after a set piece comes off during practice.

Sean Mare works on his passing.
Sam Scannell

Sean Mare works on his passing.

"Shot, cuz."

"That was mean, bro."

Short and sweet. Simple, but effective.

Sharks on three. One. Two. Three. SHARKS.
Sam Scannell

Sharks on three. One. Two. Three. SHARKS.

After training, there's no rush to get out of the cold. The boys stay on the pitch for an extra few minutes and high-five one another, then walk off the field as a unit.

It might not get the most attention in the region, but second rower Tieimi Ransfield considers the Sharks to be role models for children coming up through the grades and anyone who'd thought of taking up the sport.

Ransfield has been a part of the senior squad for the past two years and says representing the region is something he takes pride in.

From left, team members Charles Walters, Jarod Kumeroa and Maloni Tuitupou greet each other ahead of the match against ...
Sam Scannell

From left, team members Charles Walters, Jarod Kumeroa and Maloni Tuitupou greet each other ahead of the match against the Manawatu Mustangs at Yarrow Stadium.

"It's a privilege to be able to put the yellow and black jersey on."

If the coaches, players and volunteers didn't care as much as they do, the Taranaki Sharks would become nothing but a fond memory. There is no incentive whatsoever aside from getting everything they can out of the game they love. 

They turn up because their mates do.

A ball boy peers in as the Shark prepare to face the Mustangs.
Sam Scannell

A ball boy peers in as the Shark prepare to face the Mustangs.

The Taranaki Sharks brotherhood.

As Ransfield puts it, "the love of the game is where it's at."

It's an idea that plays a big part of their training; have your teammates' backs on defence and be there to back them up on attack.

Time to strap up.
Sam Scannell

Time to strap up.

"It's something they drive, and something you need in a team," Jackson says.

In May, the side took that mentality to the field at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, where they dismantled the Manawatu Mustangs 38-8 in the curtain raiser for the Warriors NRL clash against the Canberra Raiders.

"The boys loved it. It was easy to get them to training as they all wanted to play."

Brothers on the pitch. Brothers off the pitch.
Sam Scannell

Brothers on the pitch. Brothers off the pitch.

Now, they're preparing themselves to take on the Mustangs again in the central region qualifiers for the national championship competition for which Jackson has chosen a squad packed full of talent with a good balance of youth and experience.

Among the fresh faces in this weekend's side is 18-year-old half Emerson Maxwell Gray.

Gray will suit up his debut match for the team on Saturday and said he believed playing for the regional side was comparative to a rugby player being selected for the regional NPC team.

Charles Walters, Tui Karena, Travell Ngatoko, Tyson Lewis, Mark Davis and Darren Parata soak in a win over Manawatu.
Sam Scannell

Charles Walters, Tui Karena, Travell Ngatoko, Tyson Lewis, Mark Davis and Darren Parata soak in a win over Manawatu.

"I'm pretty nervous, but pretty excited too."

He might be a new face, but Gray says it doesn't take long to be accepted into the shoal.

"Everyone respects each other as league players on the field."

A Taranaki player refreshes himself after a tough match.
Sam Scannell

A Taranaki player refreshes himself after a tough match.

While it's not glamorous by any means, the Taranaki Sharks display what is great about sports - passion, pride, hard work and pure determination.

Brothers on the pitch and brothers off it.

Hold. Hold. Rush.

Sharks team to play Manawatu Mustangs

Palmerston North, Saturday August 20, 2.30pm

1 Tyson Young
2 Jarn Hauraki
3 Tainui Edwards
4 Travell Ngatoko
5 Charles Welters
6 Mark Davis
7 Darren Parata
8 Ross McLachlan
9 Emerson Gray
10 Maloni Tuitupou
11 Kerran Young
12 Sean Mare
13 Tiemi Ransfield

14 Mark Baylis
15 Cairo Ahu
16 Kurt Smith
17 Tyler Pattison
18 Phil Taylor
 

 - Stuff

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