Like father, like son.
The proud Taniwharau club will celebrate 70 years this season, but never before has a father and son played together in a premier team. Until today.
Mahinga Rangi will make his debut at halfback against the Ngaruawahia Panthers at Davies Park in Huntly in the opening round of the premier season. And making it an even more memorable day for the 18-year-old is the fact his dad Willie, 37, will line up at five-eighth.
It’s Willie’s 20th year of senior footy, having played at Taniwharau from the age of five. He’s represented Waikato and played for Waikato and New Zealand Maori sides, as well as a four-year stint in Australia with Parramatta Eels feeder team the Kellyville Bushrangers.
Similarly, Mahinga has been at Taniwharau since under-six level, playing for the under-18s last year, and he has represented Waikato and Waikato Maori at age-group level.
Fittingly, there is plenty of history in the Rangi family. Willie’s father Warren was a Kiwi triallist and a Waikato and Taniwharau standout, renowned through New Zealand for his devastating tackling and sleight of hand. Four of Mahinga’s grandfathers were involved in the establishment of the Taniwharau club, with a great grandfather instrumental in the setup of the schoolboy arm.
With injuries hitting the defending champions, Taniwharau coach John Devonshire gave Mahinga, who had been eyeing a season in the reserves, the nod at Tuesday’s training.
”I wouldn’t have selected him if I didn’t think he was up to the job, he has had a solid pre-season and shown great commitment and enthusiasm,” Devonshire said.
Willie said it’s ”kind of been overwhelming” training with his boy, while Mahinga said he was surprised by his selection, but ”excited” and ”nervous as”.
”It’s just funny to play with him, in all these years he’s been coaching me and been on the sideline watching me, and I’ve been watching him. It’s just going to be unreal I guess,” Mahinga said.
The pair live apart – Mahinga with his mum in Ngaruawahia and Willie in Huntly – but they talk every day and share tips.
Having teamed up in pre-season matches this year, they have already built an on-field rapport, and play a left-side (Willie), right-side (Mahinga) game.
But who calls the shots?
”It’s pretty much split down the middle, so he’s got that ability to show a bit of leadership in that area as well,” Willie said.
”When you’re the senior you tend to be talking a lot more, and younger blokes kind of just like to let their actions do the speaking for them. So I’ve just been encouraging him to take that leading role, being in that pivotal position.”
And Mahinga knows that he has to be a strong voice even though he’s new on the block.
”He’s the veteran I guess. So I definitely listen to him, but when it’s time for me to take charge or whatever, he listens to me.”
While Willie said his son is ”definitely a few notches ahead of me in the speed area”, Mahinga had no doubt his old man would keep up with him, and was full of praise for what he brings to the game.
”He hasn’t got his attributes that he used to have when he was young, so he’s not as fast and he’s not as strong and all that, but he gets around the paddock well and he just controls the tempo and the team real well.”
AT A GLANCE
Waikato Premier Competition, Rd 1
United v Hukanui, Resthills Park; Taniwharau v Ngaruawahia Panthers, Davies Park; Turangawaewae v Hamilton City Tigers, Paterson Park; Otumoetai Eels bye.