Chiefs' rookie hooker takes big step up

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014
Nathan Harris
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
AIMING HIGH: Young Bay of Plenty rake Nathan Harris has his sights set on making his stay in the Chiefs permanent.

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Nathan Harris is not an official member of the Chiefs' squad and not even in the wider training group but he is one of two 21-year-olds who look set to carry the early hooking load this season.

Harris and Rhys Marshall are the Chiefs' only current fit hookers, with Hika Elliot looking likely to miss the entire season through a neck injury and Mahonri Schwalger coming back from eye and knee surgery.

It is ironic that Bay of Plenty's Harris and Taranaki's Marshall were team-mates in the 2012 New Zealand Under-20 team at the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa, vying for the No 2 jersey, with Harris getting the nod for the semifinal and final.

But it was Marshall who was recruited from relative obscurity by the Chiefs as a 20-year-old ahead of the 2013 season and Harris had to content himself with coming into fill-in occasionally at training when injuries struck during the campaign.

"I was probably a bit behind the eight-ball then obviously with just playing club rugby and a bit of Chiefs Development," Harris said.

"I'd sort of get a week of it and my body would be shattered but it did help a little bit in knowing what to expect.

"It was good but this is just unbelievable. As a little kid you always want to be a professional rugby player and an All Black so it's just another step that I'm wanting to make.

"Being in this environment is just awesome - back-to-back champions - you can't really complain and they're a great group of guys off the field as well."

But this year he has been fully immersed in the pre-season training and working hard to get to the strength and fitness levels required, while absorbing all the team calls, patterns and moves.

"It's pretty exciting times. I wasn't really banking on doing much, just a bit of study this year, but I got the callup and it's a good chance for me to get a bit of a ranking.

"It definitely was a goal of mine to get a Super 15 contract at the end of the Steamers' season so it was a pretty big opportunity when they called me in straight away [at the start of the pre-season preparations]."

Harris said it was like having a carrot dangled in front of him but it was a great chance to train and play alongside the other Chiefs players and rub shoulders with All Blacks.

"I played about 40 minutes against the Reds in Queensland last weekend so it was cool just to get out there and have a bit of a run."

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While Elliot and Schwalger have been sidelined. they have still been helping their young "apprentices" out.

"Mo and Hika have been helping us out quite a lot, just with our tactical and technical stuff.

"Hika has been helping me out with my throwing and Mo with my scrummaging so we've been giving a lot of feedback between all of us to get us up there just in case the opportunity arises."

It is certainly a big step up for Te Puke's Harris who this time last year was preparing for the club rugby season.

"You've got to get your shoulders right and it's probably just the physical side of it that is quite taxing sometimes. You've got to do a lot of extras just to get that right," he said.

- Waikato Times

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