Northland Taniwha draw on Tāne Mahuta for Mitre 10 Cup inspiration

By James Perry

The Northland Taniwha head south to take on the Southland Stags in the competition opener on Thursday.

The team is looking to consolidate their recent form in this year's competition, having reached the semi-finals in each of the past two years.

To help them achieve their goals, the Taniwha team have sought inspiration from their most famous kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta.  The squad paid a visit to the famous tree in the Waipoua forest, estimated to be around 2,000 years old, last week. 

Coach Derren Witcombe says it gave a chance for the current squad to reflect on the past players who have donned the Cambridge Blue, with the kauri tree logo. 

"It's a hundred years of history next year, Tane Mahuta with Northland rugby.  It's a huge history by itself isn't it?  But for Northland Rugby, we treat it pretty special, there's a lot of players that have worn it and a lot of really good North Auckland and Northland teams that have worn it," he says. 

The country's northernmost and southernmost provinces kick off the 41st edition of the national provincial competition in Invercargill.  For Aorangi Stokes, who has been named to start at number 8 on Thursday, it's an opportunity to get the season started off on the right track.

He says they have prepared well in the pre-season, and the focus now is getting the final preparations right so they can get the job done in the deep south.

It hasn't been easy, however, with Witcombe saying they've had to name 14 new players to the squad this year, around half of the total squad.

Part of their preparation though was a noho marae at Kaikohe's Kohewhata Marae, where the team got to know each other intimately. 

"There's no walls between your bedrooms, you're out in the open," says Witcombe, "You've got to respect each other, put up with some snoring, burping and farting. You really get to know each other."

Māori All Black prop Ross Wright who is into his 11th year with the Taniwha says it was an awesome experience for the squad. 

"For us as a team to connect to our people and just give back to the community up there in Kaikohe- all the new guys learned a bit if they weren't from around here."

Stokes, who is back for his second year with the Taniwha and hails from Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi, agrees, saying the opportunity to go back to the regional Northland, and give back to the hapū and iwi allowed the players to know exactly who they're representing when they run out on the field.

Three years ago the Taniwha held the wooden spoon, finishing bottom of the Mitre 10 Cup Championship division, but they have bounced back, reaching back to back semi-finals.

Wright says the equation is simple for them this year, "We've just got to go out there and play with confidence and play with our structures and everything will follow.  We've got team goals that we've set, if we can reach those then we're pretty successful."

The Taniwha will be hoping with Tāne Mahuta's inspiration they'll achieve those goals.