Corey Harawira-Naera joins a growing list of Northland league talents plying their trade in Australia’s best competitions, and is on the verge of cracking the NRL with a Penrith Panthers side stacked with young talent. We caught up with the 21-year-old forward to talk footy and growing up in Opononi.
KLC: Let’s start with 2016, how happy were you with your season?
CHN: I did want to try and push for an NRL game, but it didn’t come. In saying that the coaching staff and everyone was really good for me and I am just trying to improve on my game every week and put by best foot forward for 2017.
You started last year by playing at the NRL Auckland Nines, that was always going to be hard to live up to wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was unreal! I have never run out to a crowd that packed, I think they were half drunk but it was just a good experience. From memory we were playing before or after the Warriors so the atmosphere was good.
Penrith have some of the best young players in the competition right now, that must make training that bit more competitive?
We are a really young team in [NSW] Cup and even first grade, it’s good have the youth here, and the U20s boys as well, pushing for jumpers. It’s good to have that pressure behind you, you have to stay on your toes because you know someone is there to take your spot if you’re not up to it.
Me and a few of the other Kiwi boys who have moved to Penrith together have made a lot of very good friends. On the field and off the field we stick together, it would be a mad experience to play with all these guys I have come through the system with.
What was your game growing up? Always league or did it start with union?
I grew up playing union up north, we never had any league, so even though growing up it was always league for me I guess you just had to deal with what you got. I think it was U15s when I first had a go at league and loved it.
Tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing in Northland.
I grew up in a place called Opononi, which at the time would have had about 2000 people there, and the school was about 120-130 kids, so everybody knew everybody and you couldn’t do anything wrong because someone would have seen you.
But it was a humble upbringing with my mum, I miss home in a lot of ways, you always get itchy feet to get back up there when you return to New Zealand.
You moved over to Sydney at the end of 2013, how did you find it initially?
It was culture shock, mum did everything for me, I am a mummy’s boy through and through so I had to step up and stand on my own two feet. I had to deal with living stuff and finding money. I never did any of that stuff before, but I guess we all have to grow up one day, and that was the day for me. Since then I have enjoyed it, Penrith is good.
— NYCDatabase.org (@NYCDatabase) July 26, 2015
You arrived at Penrith around the same time as another Northlander, James Fisher-Harris, did you guys know each other prior to meeting at the Panthers?
Yeah, the first time we met each other was in rugby union, we played with each other in a rep team for Hokianga. He was a bit of a tubby tub back then, but he is killing it on the field now. He is younger than me and it is good to see him doing so well and it’s real motivation to see him living the dream.
Having lots of Kiwi boys at the Panthers, does that offer a bit of comfort when the homesickness strikes?
It is really good to have a few Maori and New Zealand boys here. Peta Hiku, Sitaleki Akauola, they are both from Manurewa, Te Maire [Martin], Zach Dockar-Clay to name a few. We are all good mates and hang out.
When I first moved over I was all by myself, Fisher-Harris went to the U16s, but there were heaps of Kiwi boys here at the time and it does make it better.
Finally, what’s your hopes for 2017?
I can’t get disheartened if it [an NRL chance] doesn’t come, I am chasing the dream at the moment. To get a run would be unreal, but I am happy doing what I am doing now, I don’t mind it, and as long as I am playing rugby league then I will be happy.
But it would be really good to get a crack up in first grade. One game would be enough, that would be the dream achieved.
(Main photo: Corey Harawira-Naera. Credit: photosport.nz).