MAORIS IN AUCKLAND RUGBY
Maoris these days play a big and important part in Auckland senior club Rugby. A number are candidates for the Auckland representative team. Several are among the most promising of the younger players in the city. And some, it goes without saying, are the most spectacular and popular of all the scores of senior players in the city.
It is a matter of some sadness that the most spectacular player of all, Albert Pryor, has never quite reached an All Black team. Albert became Public Favourite No. 1 of the Auckland public several years ago when playing for, or against, various Barbarian teams and after his transfer to the city two or three years ago his spectacular runs and bashing, crashing style caused considerable public interest whenever Ponsonby was quartered on Eden Park in the match of the day.
Albert, too, unquestionably developed the peak form of his career in playing for the New Zealand Maori team in Australia last year. A number of the Wallabies who visited New Zealand later were insistent that Pryor was a great forward. Unfortunately, he tried to play, on return to New Zealand, on an Achilles' tendon which was almost ruptured. He played a bad game for Auckland and was promptly dropped; and it must be confessed that he will have to play very well indeed to win back his place. He and Freddie Allen, the Auckland selector, have never quite hit it off. Both sides are conscious of this and it definitely affects Pryor's form. I have not been the warmest admirer of Albert's exuberance, but I am bound to admit that the sympathetic friendship which developed between him and Mr Frank Kilby, the manager of the Maori team, made Pryor a really outstanding forward in Australia. Perhaps his future hopes lies in a similarly sympathetic understanding of him on the part of selectors generally.
Keith Davis is, of course, the only All Black among the Maoris of Auckland Rugby at the moment, but it will be surprising if another one or two don't come to light in the next season or two. A possibility is the loose forward, Hone or “Munga” Emery, who has secured his discharge from the Royal New Zealand Navy and who looked as fit as a buck-rat when playing for his new club, North Shore, in the opening match of the season. Emery came very close to selection for the 1957 All Black team which visited Australia and the country is not so rich in loose-forwards that it can afford to neglect one of his robust, bustling type.
Davis, incidentally, played in the match against Emery and startled everybody by kicking four penalty goals, one of them from the best part of 40 yards. He must have been too modest to try himself in this role before. Keith, of course, has retired from the big stuff, but will keep on turning out for Marist. He has thickened out a wee bit and looks as if he may have a good club season.
D. F. Menzies, a former New Zealand Maori representative, plays with Pryor in the Ponsonby team and looks as swift and elusive as ever. This
team also has a couple of useful forwards, J. Rangi and D. Muru, and altogether is heavily dependent on Maori players. So, too, is Navy, which proved the glamour team of the Auckland competition last year and which produced several Maoris of exceptional promise. One is a five-eighths, M. Kenny, a member of the well-known Johnsonville family which produced the outstanding 2 N.Z.E.F. fullback, “Mick” Kenny. Another is a front-row forward, R. Harrison, who weighs about 15st and who looks an ideal possibility at prop. He can kick goals, too, which is a help in these days of many penalties. Another huge lock of Navy last year, K. Kamau, is a real possibility. He tends to go in fits and starts, but this is chiefly because of a lack of experience; and Auckland is badly off for big men for the middle of the scrum.
Two extremely promising players in the Otahuhu team are M. Herewini, fullback, and W. Nathan, flank forward. Herewini, who was a champion schoolboy player at Otahuhu College only two years ago, plays with a flourish which suggests that he is keener to impress the gallery than to get on with the game; the impression is a false one. He is one of those players blessed by nature with a small frame, a neat appearance and a bouncy way of getting the ball into touch or swooping in to thicken up an attacking movement. But he is also a player blessed by nature with unusual gifts and within the next year or two he should start to go places.
Nathan hasn't a flourish in the world. He just gets his glims on the ball and tries to stay as close to it as possible from kick-off to final whistle. I know a number of hard-headed judges who thought him the most promising loose forward in Auckland last year. The Barbarians have an eye on him, too, and Nathan will be fortunate if this great club assists him, as it has assisted others, to climb to the top.
Otahuhu also fields two other Maoris in the back line, these being R. Tamati at second five-eighths and R. King on the wing. King was a member of the New Zealand Maori team in Australia but could not win a place in the Auckland team on his return. For all that, he is a dashing and elusive player who must surely get another turn in the representatives.
No Auckland club fullback of recent years has done more for his team than C. Anderson, of the Suburbs club, and this remarkably enterprising player is on hand again this year. Two slim men, H. Kingi and B. Williams, are members of the Eden team which is being coached by the former All Black captain, Ron Elvidge, who, I am sure, must have been pleased with both of them in the opening match. Takapuna is fielding that huge young lock, Don Fenton, who played for New Zealand Maoris against the Fijians in 1957 and who must surely improve as he gets to know more about the game. Manukau has J. Matata in the forwards and M. Topia at halfback. North Shore, Emery's team, has R. Murray, a heavily-built five-eighths, and B. Morunga. Navy's halfback, J. Pipi, deserved much more encouragement than he got last season, for he was without question one of the outstanding halfbacks of the competition.
So it goes on. Almost every team in the competition contains one two or more Maoris, most of whom are great favourites with the crowd and all of whom hold their places on merit. Perhaps, like Wellington, Auckland could form its own Maori team for Sunday or other festival matches.