Just-retired veteran Vodafone Warriors centre Jerome Ropati and current NRL back rower Sebastine Ikahihifo begin a two-day programme of school visits in Gisborne on Thursday ahead of the club’s VB New South Wales Cup clash against Cronulla at Rugby Park on Saturday (3.00pm kick-off).
The pair will lead sessions at four different schools as the countdown continues to Poverty Bay’s first taste of NRL football.
Ropati and Ikahihifo are scheduled to visit two locations on both Thursday and Friday before the club’s NSW Cup squad flies in on a chartered flight on Saturday morning. The Sharks will be on the same flight.
The school visits will be built around the Vodafone Warriors’ Konica Minolta League in Libraries programme, which Ropati has previously been the face of. He and Ikahihifo will also talk to pupils about their careers, challenges and rugby league generally.
They’ll work alongside Vodafone Warrior No 117 Herewini Rangi, the club’s 2004 Clubman of the Year. That year he made one NRL appearance in the 29-30 loss to Canberra; it was a season when Ropati was one of his team-mates as was long-serving winger Manu Vatuvei.
Rangi can tell one of sport’s more remarkable stories having made a remarkable recovery from a serious spinal injury when playing for the Wynnum Manly Seagulls in Queensland in 2008.
Now employed as KiwiSport Rugby League Officer for Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti, he has put together the school visits for his old club. At the first stop on Thursday Ropati and Ikahihifo will meet pupils from three total immersion schools.
No one is more excited than Rangi about the Vodafone Warriors’ visit to the region.
“This is a huge occasion for Gisborne Tairawhiti,” he said.
“It’s a great chance for people to see high quality rugby league and it’s awesome that the Vodafone Warriors have decided to not only bring this game here but also to visit schools.”
Gisborne mayor Meng Foon, who is on the New Zealand Rugby League’s board, campaigned to secure the visit.
“It’s a real honour for us to be hosting a game of this calibre,” he said.
“Tairawhiti is buzzing about the Vodafone Warriors coming here. It’s exciting not just for rugby league people but for the whole community.”
Vodafone Warriors general manager football Dean Bell welcomed the chance to take the club’s NSW Cup side to a new venue.
“We sought bids from around the country for this game and Gisborne’s was by far the best,” he said.
“Taking a New South Wales Cup game outside Auckland has never been done before but we were really keen to do it.
“It’s something the New South Wales Rugby League and the NRL were keen on and it’s part of how we want to spread the game around the country.”
The Vodafone Warriors have included eight players with NRL experience in their side to take on the Sharks. Also named are some of the club’s most exciting young players in Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata and Michael Ki.
VODAFONE WARRIORS IN GISBORNE
THURSDAY, JUNE 12
Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Nga Uri a Maui, 349 Nelson Road, Gisborne
(with Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Taonga Tuturu and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Horouta Wananga)
Illminister Intermediate School, 70 De Lautour Rd, Kaiti, Gisborne
FRIDAY, JUNE 13
Mangapapa School, 5 Rua Street, Mangapapa, Gisborne
(wiith Te Hapara School and Riverdale School)
Gisborne Intermediate School, Roebuck Road, Gisborne
(with Awapuni School)