In another For the Love of the Game feature, Blackcaps cricketer Tim Southee talks about his unexpected First XV career and his love of Northland
Like most Kiwi kids, my love of rugby started in the backyard. Growing up on a farm in Maungakaramea (to the south west of Whangarei), my brother Mark and I would spend hours running and tackling - dreaming of being All Blacks. As I was the youngest there weren’t many victories, but there were certainly plenty of good memories. We used to build our own Ranfurly Shield with a log of wood and tinfoil, before filling up Dad's empty beer cans with water (that’s what Dad thought anyway) and pretending to have a beer after the match.
I can remember Inga the Winger (19 test All Blacks wing Va'aiga Tuigamala who also played for Samoa) came to our school one day and it was such a buzz meeting him that I went home and named my pet lamb after him.
So we had an Inga in the paddock and he was soon joined by another rugby-inspired lamb we called Pat!
I was a slightly chubby kid so I usually had to play up a grade at the Mid Western Rugby Club and to be honest I wasn’t much good, but I absolutely loved the game.
When I first made the King’s College First XV, Dad rang the coach to see if there had been a mistake! I’d moved to King’s on a cricket scholarship so rugby wasn’t really on the radar.
It was only after a beep test in PE (Physical Education) that the teacher, Jim Dickin, who was also one of the First XV coaches saw my result and suggested I come to the trials, “you’re a big fella, I know you’re here for cricket but surely you can play rugby”.
I said I wasn’t that interested, but he talked me into giving it a go and I was as surprised as anyone when I got named. Well, perhaps not as surprised as Dad!
He’d played first and second five for North Auckland and although I’m sure he wanted me to be an All Black, I think he knew I had a much better chance at making the Blackcaps.
So Dad rang up the coach who just so happened to be All Black legend Grant Fox! He was coaching because his son Ryan was in his last year at King’s. Ryan was a more than handy cricketer - a lot like his golf he gave the ball a good whack and wasn’t shy of taking on the aggressive option.
I think it took Foxy a while to convince my old man but I know Dad was pretty proud that I’d made it in.
I didn’t play the first five games of the 2004 season but then our lock unfortunately broke a leg at training and I played the rest of that season, albeit not very well.
The season was a real eye opener for a young fella off a sheep and beef farm in Northland. We took on all the big schools in Auckland and it left me wanting to be a part of it in the years to follow.
The next season was my sixth form and I started all season. We won the Auckland 1A competition for the first time in a long time, beating Kelston Boys in the final at Eden Park. We then beat Westlake Boys and went on to play in the National Top Four competition where we beat Wesley College in our first game. Man there were some big boys in that Wesley team. I remember facing off to do the school hakas and pondering to myself how I had ended up in such a position and as the teams started to advance towards each other I reluctantly advanced as well, as turning and running wasn’t an option.
We lost to a pretty good Christchurch Boys High School team in the final, they had the likes of Nasi Manu, Matt Todd, Owen Franks, Ash Dixon, Colin Slade and Tim Bateman to name a few.
My best year was in 2006 when I was in 7th Form and I felt more at home on the side of the scrum at blindside flanker. We lost to Auckland Grammar in the 1A final but I somehow made my way into the Auckland Secondary Schools team and Northern Region A team.
That was a good side that included some future stars like Sean Maitland, Mike Harris, Tim Nanai-Williams and Frank Halai to name a few. We were pretty good but we lost to the South Island in the final thanks to a Nasi Manu hat-trick from memory. The Auckland secondary school side went through undefeated and that would turn out to be the end of my rugby days. I finished school that year and got a cricket contract with Northern Districts – the rest as they say is history.
There have been plenty of times where I’ve been tempted to throw the rugby boots in the car when I’m going along to watch my brother play for Hikarangi in the Northland club competition, hoping that they may need a ring-in. The thought of having to ring New Zealand Cricket to explain how I had injured myself playing club footy was always enough to dash any dreams of an impromptu return to the rugby field.
I’ve always been a proud Northland Taniwha and Chiefs supporter. Northland were part of the Chiefs when I grew up and we had the likes of Glenn Taylor, Gus Collins and Ian Jones playing for the Chiefs in those early years.
I know Northland are part of the Blues now, but I’m still a Chiefs man and that won’t change. I’ve got one of those retro Chiefs jerseys from 1998 that gets put in the suitcase and taken away with me when we tour with the Blackcaps.
There’s a lot of Crusaders fans in the team so I whip that jersey out any chance I can. I’m lucky that big Kyle Jamieson and Daryl Mitchell are Chiefs men too so I have a bit of size on my side when we take on the Cantabs.
Most of the Blackcaps love their rugby and we know a lot of the All Blacks follow the cricket too, but because of the nature of our seasons we don’t get many chances to catch up.
Sport has been very kind to me and I’m lucky to have been able to make a career out of cricket. I’ve been fortunate to travel as well as meet some incredible people along the way. A real highlight was recently being able to meet some of my childhood rugby heroes like Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen. Being able to play golf and have a few beers with them was amazing and I kept thinking that the young boy inside me wouldn’t have believed it.
Looking back at some of my memories of playing rugby, like the Kings v Auckland Grammar games and they are still some of my favourite sporting memories. Those games were incredible to be a part of and I still love to tune in and watch the high school matches these days. Although I don’t miss the cold winter trainings or getting smashed up on a Saturday I still miss playing the game and who knows, maybe a season of club rugby could be on the cards after cricket.