Waikato's Marty Holah not ready to quit just yet

AARON GOILE
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014
Marty Holah
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
FAMILY MAN: Marty Holah, pictured with son Jack after last year's club final win, is managing to combine work, family and rugby as he prepares for yet another campaign with the Mooloos.

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He knows it's a young man's game.

But that's not stopping Marty Holah grace the field for Waikato in this year's national provincial competition.

Holah turns 38 next month - near ancient in rugby years - but the former All Black is having too much fun to think about hanging up the boots yet.

"I still enjoy it," is his simple reason for still playing. "I think there's still a bit of a challenge and a thrill of playing for your province that hasn't gone. It's not quite the competition it used to be, it's not held in awe as it once was by the NZRU or the public. But it's still really pleasing to be able to pull on your provincial jersey and play against guys that are like-minded and have a challenge that way. 

"So it's something I'm pretty proud of, so to be able to do it is pretty special for me." 

Holah has amassed 83 caps for the Mooloo men since debuting in 1999. And next Saturday against Wellington he's set to add to that tally. The century-mark can't be reached this year, but don't discount the wily openside flanker from bringing up the ton next season.

"I'm definitely getting to the end," Holah said. "Whether it's my last [season] or not, I don't know, we'll probably have to reassess at the end of the season.

"If I can get through this season and play a part and offer something on the field and the body handles it, then potentially there could be more. It's pretty tough with a young family and work to fit it all in."

That's where Holah admits he feels guilty.

Instead of taking his son, Jack, to rugby practices or being on the sidelines to watch his boy's games, it's Holah's own rugby - both for the Hamilton Marist club and then Waikato - which keeps him away.

"That part of it's pretty tough," he said. "I kind of feel a little bit selfish sometimes carrying on playing."

Jack is four, and Holah also has a 22-month-old and a nine-week-old.

How is this guy still playing?


"I've just got a pretty good wife to be honest, she's pretty understanding," Holah said. "My parents and my in-laws are really good, they help out as well. I don't see a lot of my kids, I do feel a little bit guilty about that. And that's probably one of the major things that would make me retire to be honest, just to spend a little bit of time with them."

Not only is there rugby, but Holah also still has to fit work in. He's involved in the family business - Holah Homes - getting on site as well as doing some admin.

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He admits that with his other commitments he can't put as much time as he'd like into his fitness, but he's probably in the best condition he can be, all things considered.

"I think that's probably why it's become a little bit of a young man's game now. It's more suited to people that are students or early in their working careers where they're not so keen on developing their career, they want to play rugby and give that a go. I know there's a general perspective that it's a pretty cruisy lifestyle, but you spend six months of the pre-season training 6am and six at night and then working in between. So it's not the easiest thing to do, to be honest, it can be pretty tough and challenging."

After nine seasons with Waikato, seven with the Chiefs and 36 test appearances, Holah jetted overseas for three seasons with Ospreys, before returning in 2011 and playing for Waikato again. At the time he was keen on making a return to Super Rugby too, but realised there were too many quality sevens on the scene.

In 2012 he broke his ankle in the last pre-season game and despite his best intentions, never managed to get back on the field that season. Then last year he was used in an off-field role.

"I attempted to be the defence coach," Holah quipped.

"I was still pretty keen to play, it's just with [former coach] Chris Gibbes leaving pretty late in the piece it left the coaching staff a little bit short, so there was a bit of a door opened up to give it a go, and I decided to have a crack at that.

"I think the results showed that I wasn't a very good defence coach so that's why I've sort of gone back to playing this year.

Now Holah will just focus on being the breakdown scavenger he's always been.

His body is holding up well at the moment, and he's also surprised by how much the man who kept him out of the All Blacks - Richie McCaw - is still getting through.

"It's amazing what he's done and what he still carries on and can get out of his body really. He's asked a lot of it over the years and still is doing so.

"You always have a few knocks and that but obviously there's a few things that start to red flag, like my knees get a little bit tired at stages, so it's just managing the workload. It used to be recovery runs pretty much every Sunday, but it might be a recovery bike these days or a recovery pool session. You just have to adapt and go with things."

Holah's unsure if his role will be 80 minutes in most games, and realises he has a battle just to make the XV each game, but when you're his age there are some benefits which can be taken onto the paddock.

"You learn a few tricks over the years, yeah. Guys pull a few little quick ones on you and you think to yourself 'I might use that one'. Your running lines improve the more you play and you tend to read pictures and scenarios a little bit quicker as well when you've been there and done that before. So that part of it's easier."

Holah will be one of two vice captains for Waikato this year, sharing the role with fellow opensider Zak Hohneck as they help out first-year skipper Brad Weber.

"I think Zak'll mainly be the vice captain, I'll just be chipping in," Holah said.

"There's so many young guys in the team it's easy for things to get carried away so it's nice to just get a different perspective on things, so I think that's what they're hoping I'll bring."

Holah's inclusion in the Mooloos' squad lifts the average age from 22 to 23, and that jibe is something that's already been aired among the team.

"The guys mention that quite a bit," Holah said. "It's a pretty easy butt of a lot of jokes, to be honest."

But with all his experience, Holah is hoping he can ensure the young players adhere to the province's traditions, and he's excited about the prospect of propelling Waikato from their two successive fifth-placings in the premiership.

"I think there's been a fair investment in trying to create a little bit of a happier, more determined environment in getting the right guys in that are keen to work as a team and put a team performance for each other on the field. We're a little bit realistic about not having the biggest names in the business, but sometimes you don't need that to win, you've got to be the best team, and that's part of what we're working towards."

- Waikato Times

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