Captain Read ready to take Crusaders reins
Tonight Kieran Read begins his new job as Crusaders captain. Richard Knowler looks at what led a talented rugby and cricket player from Karaka to Canterbury and how he became one of the world’s best No 8s.
Kieran Read's rugby skills weren't the only thing that made him such a prominent sight among team-mates in his Counties-Manukau age-group representative sides.
Various rugby aficionados who monitored Read's climb through the grades described him as a "lanky" and "tall and skinny" kid, not afraid to throw his body at bigger opponents.
But what made the teenage Read so easy to spot was his white skin.
Playing in rugby competitions stacked with hefty Polynesian players, who often joined him in the local rep teams, loose forward Read didn't lack for powerful team-mates when wearing his provincial colours.
Playing against those same lads was a different matter.
It forced Read, now 27, to accept that if he was going to succeed the only choice open to him was to be combative.
James Fraser, who Read describes as a mentor during his days at Papakura's Rosehill College, said the future All Black possessed a competitive spark that didn't allow him to quit even if his teams were being belted.
"I suppose you could say he was fearless. If you looked at him back then there wasn't much to him - he was pretty lanky," Fraser said.
"He wasn't the type to get into fights. You can play some pretty rough teams at times around here . . . but he was more the type to tell the hot-headed guys to pull their heads in."
It's a refrain often repeated when talking to those who monitored Read's progress during his secondary school years.
Although tall, he lacked the meat on his bones. There was also no doubt he was talented - and not just at rugby.
As a cricketer Read excelled as a top-order batsman who hit the ball cleanly. He progressed through the provincial grades and as part of a mentoring programme at Rosehill it was discussed whether he should focus on making the New Zealand team ahead of the under-19 world championships.
Read, the second of three sons, was born and raised in Papakura before parents Terry and Marilyn bought a 10-acre block in Karaka in the late 1990s.
He won a sports scholarship to St Kentigern College in Auckland for his fourth-form year but returned to Rosehill the next year.
Watching their son walk away from a scholarship probably wasn't easy for his parents but his mother, Marilyn, said he wasn't to be persuaded.
"He had all his friends at Rosehill and at St Kentigern he was basically a fourth-former playing with fifth and sixth formers. We tried to convince him to stay but he had a mind of his own, even back then."
It was cricket, not rugby, that gave Read his first taste of captaincy.
He was in charge of many cricket teams he played in, leading the 1st XI for several seasons before being anointed the 1st XV captain in seventh form. He was also head boy.
"They were really fun times. It was 10 years ago, now, for me and I remember then just like yesterday," Read said.
When he left school and began studying in Hamilton in 2004, Read made the New Zealand side for the world under-19 tournament in South Africa.
Bitten by the rugby bug, he knew there was no going back to cricket - even though he had been good enough to play in the Counties senior cricket team when he was barely 16 and scored a century in a Ubix Cup match.
Aussie McLean, then the Canterbury NPC coach and also involved in the under-19 side, persuaded Read to sign with the southern province.
Later that season Read suffered a serious knee injury, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament while playing in Hamilton. It didn't hinder his chances with Canterbury. In 2006 he made his first-class debut and was picked by the Crusaders the following year.
"We thought he would be a cricketer but it didn't turn out that way," father Terry says. "Northern Districts looked after him all the way through but he just wanted to play rugby.
"He was determined, even back then, and gave as good as he got on the field. He wasn't the type to back down."