Otahuhu junior connection remains strong
Come Saturdays and Sundays the top of the hill at Bert Henham Park in Otahuhu, Auckland, is the prime viewing spot for fans in the rugby league mad suburb, overlooking the entire field below.
But through the week it can be a seemingly unattainable goal for the Otahuhu Leopards' many junior players, and the point where maximum physical exhaustion is reached during runs up its steep face.
It is also a place where professional players are made, and this Play NRL Round seven Otahuhu juniors – Jason Taumalolo, Isaac Liu, Sam Kasiano, Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Leeson Ah Mau and Kirisome Auva'a – will take the field.
That is the most of any New Zealand junior club, with only South Auckland neighbours Manurewa and Mangere East (both six) coming close to matching those numbers.
The Otahuhu presence will be spread across seven of the 16 Telstra Premiership clubs this weekend.
Warriors and Kiwis fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, perhaps the club's most notable recent graduate, remembers his time at the Leopards fondly.
"It was cool back then, it all started when a group of my friends were heading to training down in Otahuhu and I just joined them," Tuivasa-Sheck said.
"I remember doing road runs and running around the whole of the park and it was pretty cool.
"We used to do a beacon run up to the top of the hill too which was always hard."
Several of those who 'RTS' played with at Otahuhu remain close friends to this day, and while he is still a passionate supporter of the club his family ties mean he has to split his local Auckland support.
"I think the Auckland junior season starts in a couple of weeks, but it's tough because my little cousins now play for Mangere East, so I will have to go out there and watch a few of their games, especially the ones against Otahuhu," he said.
"But Otahuhu have a good family base there, it's a real old school club, full of proud people who love the game.
"They are really into it from the coaches to all of the managers there. They are really into the game and keep pushing it as if they are the best club in the world. That’s why they are really good, because of that drive and passion."
The Otahuhu club – which is the third-largest in Auckland in terms of playing numbers, behind Mangere East and Manurewa – is also renowned for having produced more Kiwi international captains than any other New Zealand club.
Local players Roy Christian, Mark Graham, Hugh McGahan, Richie Barnett and Ruben Wiki all went on to lead their country.
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