Words: Britt Spencer
Former Hastings Boys’ High School student Tohu Harris became captain of the New Zealand Warriors in 2021. Following a successful stint with the Melbourne Storm from 2009 to 2017, Tohu has returned to his roots and is creating his own storm locally. The bulk of his family still live in Hawke’s Bay, with one brother in Amsterdam and a sister in Perth.
What is involved in being team captain? Pre-season is hard for anyone. There is no extra training that you have to do over and above the usual sessions. But in terms of being the captain, I need to have regular conversations with coach Andrew Webster (Webby) around my own personal standards, making sure I am not slipping on our team’s standards.Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (the previous captain) used to bounce in every day with boundless amounts of energy and had extremely high standards. My style is not like that, although that does not mean that my standards are any lower. I still have to make sure I am ready to go at each session. That is the sort of mindset I, as captain, have to have.
Why this profession? From the age of six, I grew up playing rugby with my cousins and wanting to play with my older brothers. Eventually, I joined the Tamatea Rugby Union Club. I think I have had more opportunities than my brothers and cousins have because of different circumstances. By the time I was coming through high school, I was able to experience more and play in several different competitions. I was determined to use my experience as a sportsperson to make a living doing something I love, and rugby is something I would be doing at the weekend anyway. I feel a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities I have been given, ones that other family members didn’t get.
While I’m doing this, I need to make sure I am being the best player and version of myself possible. I don’t want to take it for granted or to be a part-time player. I want to give myself the best chance to be as good as I can be.
What is the biggest change in your professional life over the past 10 years? A major personal change happened when my wife and I had our son, Harlan. I became a lot more relaxed in terms of leading into games and being able to play with a clear head. Before that I was creating unnecessary pressure on myself, which reflected on my performance. Having children and learning how to prioritise has made a huge difference in how I do things.
What is the most memorable experience in your career? In terms of the game, playing the homecoming game at Mount Smart Stadium in 2022 was really special to be a part of. Being back in Auckland for the first time in three years, leading the side out of the tunnel and seeing my family in the crowd, and noticing how loud it was, are things that will stick with me. Also, playing for the Storm in Napier in the World Cup Challenger in 2015, and being part of the winning side in the 2017 NRL Grand Final were extra special. I am very fortunate to have had lots of memorable moments.
What part of your work do you enjoy most? I think it is competing. Whether it is in training against team mates or in a competition against other teams. I really enjoy the competition. I find it hard to get myself going if there isn’t any and it feels like I’m going through the motions and just ticking the boxes. It’s best when there is the chance to win the game and also the possibility that we may lose.
Describe a typical day. Monday is our training day – wake up at 5 a.m., have breakfast and get ready. We travel to City Kickboxing, where we do a wrestling session with Kai Kara-France, who has been our wrestling coach this year. We head to Mount Smart for meetings and lunch. Then we go to the field for a two-hour training session and finish with two different weights groups. Pre-season days can be very long and exhausting, but one thing that Webby has been aiming for this year is for us to be going home tired but happy, and that’s how we have been.
What do you find is the most challenging part of your role as captain? The last three long years, being away from home, trying to keep everyone motivated has been hard to do – especially coming back from my ACL injury. That has probably been the most challenging part so far.
What do you think the future holds for your profession? My personal aim is to have success with the Warriors. It has been a long time since we have had sustained success. My biggest goal is for us to become a successful club on and off the field.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened? Playing against the Storm one time, I was tackled, and Cameron Smith complimented me saying my hair smelt nice. I’m not sure if he was trying to get inside my head with this random comment mid-game, but I thought it was pretty funny.
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