Get to know PIC Steelers Head Coach Tai Lavea!

How much have you enjoyed watching club footy this year?

It’s been great getting out and about across the region this year and watching club footy. The big thing for me that’s really impressed is the level of improvement we’ve been seeing at the Premier level from week to week. The improvements from the resumption of the competition after COVID to where we are now have been fantastic and, as a result, you’ll see a lot of local club players have been rewarded with contracts for the PIC Steelers.

What have you made of the standard of club football?

As I mentioned before, I think the standard has really come a long way in recent weeks. We’ve got some very good players out there and we have also been blessed to have quite a few experienced individuals who have returned from overseas and link up with their old clubs. On top of that, it’s also been great to see Super Rugby boys released back to the club competition from week to week.

Steelers teams in the past have been criticised for not being local enough – how important is it to have home grown players in your opinion?

Right from the start, I’ve been very clear that we want to select local boys in the PIC Steelers. Ultimately, we want the support of our community and we are only going to get that when they see their club players pulling on the black, red and white. In order to do this, the standard of our Premier club competition needs to be high so the performance gap between that and the Mitre 10 Cup is achievable. It’s for that reason we’ve been very proactive in getting around to our clubs and talking with players and their coaches regularly this year to provide them with feedback about what they need to do to ensure they are ready for that step up. A lot of them have really bought into what we are trying to do and, again, as I mentioned before, they’ve been rewarded with contracts.

If you are recruiting from outside the Union, do you think it is important that players link with local clubs?

Look, we want to be a team made up largely of local boys. That’s absolutely key to understand here. But at the same time, the Mitre 10 Cup competition is a tough grind and we do have to be in the market for guys boasting Super Rugby experience. It’s for that reason we’ve managed to bring the likes of Dalton Papalii and Ezekiel Lindenmuth in this year. It’s not just about on-field performance either. It’s about everything they bring to the table. We’ve established some very clear guidelines in regards to recruitment going forward as we know the community is pretty hot on this topic. For starters, we see it as a fundamental part of our jobs to be having constant communication with our club players and their coaches about where we see them and what they need to do to win selection for the PIC Steelers. Second, we have a rule that if there’s a choice between a local boy and someone of equal ability from outside the region, we’ll pick the local boy first. And, finally, anyone who comes into the region from outside must be visibly aligned to one of our clubs and available to play for their Premier team when possible. We aren’t going to get it right all the time but these three points are our guiding principles to ensure we have the right local balance in our team but also have the flexibility to add players from outside who are going to bring tremendous value.

Do you get much out of seeing potential Steelers players going head to head most weeks in club footy?

In short, yes. It’s great to see the competitive edge out there that comes from contracted PIC Steelers players going head-to-head on any given weekend for their clubs.

What do you think the 2020 Steelers are capable of?

Our big focus right now is much wider than performance on the field. We want to be a team that makes our community proud so a lot of things we are working on are ideas about how we can engage with and represent our people this year. The high performance unit has just moved back to Navigation Homes Stadium and our gym is now in the Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre in Pukekohe. These things might seem small in the grand scheme of things but it’s all about reconnecting to our DNA. It’s also about having a longer view. We are working hard to put the right foundations in place that will ensure the longevity of the Union.

Give us a couple of names to watch out for this season and why you think they can have big campaigns?

We’ve got a lot of boys returning from Super Rugby who haven’t actually had a lot of game time this year. I know they are all very hungry to get stuck into the upcoming Mitre 10 Cup season and they are all aligned on the plans we have in place. I’m confident they will add huge value to our team on and off the field each week and that is certainly our expectation.

Why should fans come out and support this team in 2020?

We really want to be a team that our community is proud of. But ultimately they are going to judge us on the manner of our performances and how we conduct ourselves on and off the field. What I will say is this year’s PIC Steelers will be a dedicated, hard-working group. We’ve got a good balance of experienced players and some new, exciting local talent. There’s no question we need our fans to get behind us this year so now it’s up to us to give them reasons to do just that.