Bartlett hoping for big result for 60th match

100th Heartland Championship game for East Coast at Whakarua Park on Saturday

100th Heartland Championship game for East Coast at Whakarua Park on Saturday

MAN OF MANY TALENTS: Ngati Porou East Coast’s Verdon Bartlett beats Buller blindside flanker Blair McIlroy. Bartlett, who plays his 60th game for the Sky Blues, against South Canterbury tomorrow, has played almost every position in the backline. Tomorrow he will wear the No.10 jersey. Picture by Paul Rickard

VERDON Bartlett makes his 60th appearance for Ngati Porou East Coast tomorrow when the Coast host Heartland Championship leaders South Canterbury at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria.

“Verdon’s been a model of consistency for us over a number of years now and a good role model,” Coast backs coach Troy Para said. “It’s also our 100th Heartland Championship game. If ever there was an occasion when we need to stand up, it’s this weekend."

The good news for Coast fans is Bartlett, a 30-year-old forestry worker, has no intention of retiring.

“As long as coaches keep picking me and the body holds out, I’ll keep playing,” Bartlett said.

Shortly after the 2012 Meads Cup final against Wanganui, in which he scored the winning try, Bartlett played rugby for German club side TV Pforzheim.

“I enjoyed playing for Pforzheim, which is the name of the club and the city — population 120,000 and situated between Stuggart and Karlsruhe in south-west Germany. I arrived before the end of the first round, which was at the end of their winter, so the weather was pretty good.

“I played every game in the second round and we made the semifinals but lost. It was as physical as the Heartland competition but the players and teams were not as switched-on technically. My partner Maani and two boys (Eraihia and Te Haika) arrived over at the end of the season and we had 10 weeks’ holidays around Europe, which was good. But it was too far from family and even though I was asked to return, I decided it was time to head home.”

Bartlett, a crowd favourite, said he loved playing for the Coast and TVC.

“Getting the jersey presented before every game is still an honour. Scoring that try (cup final) that people still talk about today, and winning the Coast club competition this year with TVC have been the main highlights. The past few years haven’t been too flash but I want to give back to the sport by helping these young fellas, and at 30 I reckon I have time to make it to the 100 games.

“We’ve got a good young team who have been unlucky not to win some games this year. We’ve made mistakes at crucial times and in crucial areas but some of that is down to inexperience. The only way to get that is by playing.”

Unfortunately for the Coast and Bartlett, they could not have asked for a tougher finish to the round-robin format, before the Meads Cup (top four) and Lochore Cup (next four) playoffs.

The South Islanders are leading the competition on 31 points, three ahead of Horowhenua Kapiti and four more than Buller, who meet in Westport. That means top spot and a home semifinal and possible home final are still up for grabs.

“If they had already booked first they might have been tempted to rest some key players before the semis but we’re expecting their top team this weekend,” Para said. “Despite a disappointing season, morale in the camp is still high.

“We’re all looking forward to having a good crack at South Canterbury. Some people have said they’ve not looked as formidable as the top qualifiers from previous years . . . but we don’t buy that. They have some big boys in the pack, especially their No.8, who is a hard man to stop. He’s not only big but fast and very skilful. They also have a backline full of attacking players.”

For the record, South Canterbury inflicted Wanganui’s first loss in two years in the Heartland Championship with a 21-17 victory in Timaru, midway through the eight-round competition.

Para and co-coach Wayne Ensor will be hoping that the return of four key players — prop Pera Bishop, lock Manaia Nyman and flankers Hone Haerewa and Paddy Allen — who missed last week’s loss to North Otago — can inspire an upset.

VERDON Bartlett makes his 60th appearance for Ngati Porou East Coast tomorrow when the Coast host Heartland Championship leaders South Canterbury at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria.

“Verdon’s been a model of consistency for us over a number of years now and a good role model,” Coast backs coach Troy Para said. “It’s also our 100th Heartland Championship game. If ever there was an occasion when we need to stand up, it’s this weekend."

The good news for Coast fans is Bartlett, a 30-year-old forestry worker, has no intention of retiring.

“As long as coaches keep picking me and the body holds out, I’ll keep playing,” Bartlett said.

Shortly after the 2012 Meads Cup final against Wanganui, in which he scored the winning try, Bartlett played rugby for German club side TV Pforzheim.

“I enjoyed playing for Pforzheim, which is the name of the club and the city — population 120,000 and situated between Stuggart and Karlsruhe in south-west Germany. I arrived before the end of the first round, which was at the end of their winter, so the weather was pretty good.

“I played every game in the second round and we made the semifinals but lost. It was as physical as the Heartland competition but the players and teams were not as switched-on technically. My partner Maani and two boys (Eraihia and Te Haika) arrived over at the end of the season and we had 10 weeks’ holidays around Europe, which was good. But it was too far from family and even though I was asked to return, I decided it was time to head home.”

Bartlett, a crowd favourite, said he loved playing for the Coast and TVC.

“Getting the jersey presented before every game is still an honour. Scoring that try (cup final) that people still talk about today, and winning the Coast club competition this year with TVC have been the main highlights. The past few years haven’t been too flash but I want to give back to the sport by helping these young fellas, and at 30 I reckon I have time to make it to the 100 games.

“We’ve got a good young team who have been unlucky not to win some games this year. We’ve made mistakes at crucial times and in crucial areas but some of that is down to inexperience. The only way to get that is by playing.”

Unfortunately for the Coast and Bartlett, they could not have asked for a tougher finish to the round-robin format, before the Meads Cup (top four) and Lochore Cup (next four) playoffs.

The South Islanders are leading the competition on 31 points, three ahead of Horowhenua Kapiti and four more than Buller, who meet in Westport. That means top spot and a home semifinal and possible home final are still up for grabs.

“If they had already booked first they might have been tempted to rest some key players before the semis but we’re expecting their top team this weekend,” Para said. “Despite a disappointing season, morale in the camp is still high.

“We’re all looking forward to having a good crack at South Canterbury. Some people have said they’ve not looked as formidable as the top qualifiers from previous years . . . but we don’t buy that. They have some big boys in the pack, especially their No.8, who is a hard man to stop. He’s not only big but fast and very skilful. They also have a backline full of attacking players.”

For the record, South Canterbury inflicted Wanganui’s first loss in two years in the Heartland Championship with a 21-17 victory in Timaru, midway through the eight-round competition.

Para and co-coach Wayne Ensor will be hoping that the return of four key players — prop Pera Bishop, lock Manaia Nyman and flankers Hone Haerewa and Paddy Allen — who missed last week’s loss to North Otago — can inspire an upset.

NPEC (1-22): Perrin Manuel, Kareti Palmer, Pera Bishop, Manaia Nyman, Rhys Walker, Hone Haerewa, Paddy Allen, Parekura Lalaga, Neihana Ratahi-Brown, Verdon Bartlett, Epeli Lotawa, Sailosi Vatubua, Te Peehi Fairlie, Jayden Milner, Kris Palmer. Reserves: Moana Nuku, Laman Davies, Tim Barbarich, Richard Green, Charlie Harrison, Kahu Ward, Fabyan Kahaki.

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