After having his professional career cut short by injuries, Ben Henry has returned to local Auckland footy and enjoyed immediate success, helping his junior club Bay Roskill to an undefeated season in the second division. (Photo: photosport.nz).
We sat down with him to discuss the season that was, injury fears, and whether he’ll continue in 2019.
It was good. All along playing rugby league was a passion of mine, I quite enjoyed it, and I think this year with the church guys, and a lot of my cousins and brothers and mates who I grew up with before the Warriors happened, being back with them was what I enjoyed most about this year.
Playing with my uncles and cousins and friends, that was the best thing about the year.
You’ve suffered a number of serious knee injuries in the space of just a few years. How hard was the decision to come back, knowing it could happen again?
I had been doing some training all of last year and had been slowly getting back into some touch footy. After what the club went through last year, losing in the final to Otahuhu, you get that itch. I had the itch, I loved the idea of playing footy and loved the idea of playing with guys I grew up with. So it was a hard decision, but it wasn’t.
Were there any moments this year where you thought you might have picked up a serious knee injury again?
Yeah there were times. I wasn’t playing back-to-back games, I would play and then have a week off for much of the season. At times I’d catch an awkward ball and my knee would bend in a weird way, then it wasn’t good for a few days, which made me think ‘why the heck am I doing this again?’ but then it would come right again and I’d decide I was good.
We knew you as a centre or back-rower, or a dummy-half at a stretch, during your time with the Warriors. How did you come to wear the No.7 jersey for Bay Roskill?
The guys said ‘you can play whatever position you like’, so I said ‘I ain’t playing in the forwards! I’ll play half and I’ll pick and choose my moments’ they were sweet with that. Without being a princess, it allowed me to enjoy my footy again.
The majority of the Bay Roskill boys also attend the same church as you, and the team is basically church-run, right through to the coaching staff and admin. What’s it like being in a side where the culture is built around the very values you choose to live by?
The bond you have with all the players is awesome. We have guys who don’t attend our church and we still share the bond with them. They mock us about Sundays, we mock them back, there’s banter and that is cool. We know where we stand and they know where we stand.
You picked up some individual honours in your short career, including playing for New Zealand, but those injuries robbed you of any real chance to win stuff with a team. Do you feel like that gap has been somewhat filled now you’ve won the Sharman Cup?
In a way I did feel like that. It had been a long time coming for the Bay. I was just glad I got through and I wasn’t hurt. As much as getting the trophy was cool, the body was all good, so I was happy about that.
You mentioned you have strong family ties in the team. Run us through all of your connections in this year’s Bay Roskill side.
OK… man, so Cori and Jerome Vogel are my first cousins. Cheoneth is my brother. Matt Tutaki, I have always called him uncle growing up. His son Xavier and nephew Justus, I have known them since they were in nappies. Jerome Ropati I have known for years and his wife used to look after me when I was in nappies. Ezekiel Paul, he married my sister recently. A number of the guys are just good friends I have grown up with. My pastor is also on the coaching staff.
We’ve saved maybe the most important question for the end. The Vikings will be back in the first division next year for the first time since 2013. Will you be putting your hand up to take the field for them in the Fox?
Well… I sat down with my pastor recently and he said ‘I hope your body is ready for next year’. We will see what happens. If I can still do one game in, one game out, that would be OK. We will have to see what happens.