Chanel Harris-Tavita will take a heavy heart into the Vodafone Warriors’ 2022 season after his grandfather and former New Zealand Māori representative Ray Harris lost his battle with cancer late last month.
His death came as the rugby league community and wider sporting world was remembering Kiwi icon Olsen Filipaina, who was laid to rest in the Far North last week after passing away on February 10.
Harris (Mount Wellington) and Filipaina (Mangere East) were contemporaries on the Auckland scene in the later 1970s before the ‘The Big O’ began his professional career with Balmain 1980.
Harris-Tavita followed in his grandfather’s footsteps when he played for the Māori, helping them to a memorable 16-10 win over the Indigenous All Stars in Sydney on February 12.
Harris, who was 70, was able to watch coverage of the game, taking enormous pride seeing his grandson representing his Māori heritage.
As an accomplished standoff, the charismatic Harris stood out as one of the most influential players when Auckland’s club rugby league scene boomed in the 1970s feeding off the buzz generated by Carlaw Park’s special charm.
A career highlight came in 1976 when he guided the Ron Ackland-coached Mount Wellington Warriors to a 20-12 win over the Glenora Bears in the Fox Memorial grand final (Mount Wellington’s first and only Fox final appearance). Among the players Harris had alongside him were the young brothers Dane and Kurt Sorensen, who would go on to become New Zealand greats.
His New Zealand Māori career included his involvement in the 1975 Pacific Cup when they beat Papua New Guinea 38-13 in the final in Port Moresby. He was also in the Māori side which lost 16-19 to Great Britain in 1974, the line-up including former, current or future Kiwis Dennis Williams, Dennis Key, Dane Sorensen, Eddie Kerrigan, Paul Matete, Josh Liavaa, Peter Gurnick, Kevin Tamati, Bill Burgoyne, Lyndsay Proctor and Dave Sorensen.
Harris came under the guidance of renowned Māori coach Tom Newton, a key figure at Mount Wellington and later Auckland coach. As well as representing the Māori, Harris played for the Auckland provincial side.