Hohepa realising his childhood dreams

Hohepa realising his childhood dreams

First-five Riley Hohepa is having a heck of a season and finally getting the reward for years of dedication and striving to earn a PIC Steelers starting.

The Patumahoe skipper has been one of the stand-out players in the club scene for a number of years now but has had limited opportunity with the PIC Steelers.

He powered Patumahoe to an unbeaten run to the McNamara Cup final this year before being upstaged by Manurewa in the decider.

But new PIC Steelers coach Reon Graham had faith in Hohepa and handed him the starting first-five position.

He hasn’t looked back since, starring in the hoops this season to help Graham’s side restore community interest and have the team fighting for a quarter-final berth.

Hohepa played his blazer game last weekend against Manawatu and was emotional in his acceptance speech when talking about it being a life-long dream fulfilled.

“I was pretty young – I couldn’t put an age on it but as old as those ball boys out there,” he said. “I was a ball boy for a couple of years, and I would have been probably nine or 10.

“I didn’t know it was a pathway into the Steelers but I knew that is what I wanted to do.

“I only lived a stone’s throw away from the stadium, so I was always down at the games, sliding down the bank and doing what kids do.

“It is home for me – it feels like home. It is just a really good feeling – I feel this is where I belong, and it is different when you feel like you belong.”

He contemplated whether his goal of playing for the PIC Steelers was realistic when the opportunity didn’t come, and he had to draw deep within to continue to pursue it.

“I think at times I doubted it and asked myself why I was even doing this – those thoughts probably creep into everyone when they are trying to break into it. NPC is so hard to break into because there are so many good club players out there.

“I first got called in when I was 19 and I didn’t sign my first professional contract until I was 24 so if that is saying anything to any young kids out there – if you want something you have to stick at it.”

And it is all the sweeter now that he has been striving for it for so long.

“It is definitely rewarding – the coach has told me the 10 jersey is mine and when you get given that opportunity you don’t want to let anyone down. I have taken it with both hands - I hope that I have at least.

“My goal is to play Super Rugby and I am not going to stop until I get there.

“Some people will say that age is a factor, but I think I am coming into my prime years. My mind is young and my body will follow.”