Kiwi cowboy

From waka ama champion to potential NRL player.

From waka ama champion to potential NRL player.

Gisborne teenager and Horouta Waka Hoe paddler Keanu Wainohu-Kemp has signed a contract with NRL club North Queensland Cowboys. Picture by Liam Clayton

League fans, remember this name . . . Keanu Wainohu-Kemp.

The Gisborne Boys’ High student has signed a contract with NRL club North Queensland Cowboys and will play at junior level.

The club is home to one of the biggest names in the history of the sport, Jonathan Thurston, as well as Tongan star Jason Taumalolo.

It also kickstarted the first grade career of rising star Kalyn Ponga, now with Newcastle Knights.

Wainohu-Kemp, 17, will move to Townsville in November to embark on this new and exciting challenge.

A talented all-round sportsman, he is most well known as a waka ama paddler with Horouta Waka Hoe Club and is a member of the New Zealand junior 19 elite club team to compete at the world sprints in Tahiti next month.

He was also in the Poverty Bay under-16 rugby team last year, playing at No.8.

With waka ama long being a major focus, he goes into this league opportunity very much a rookie.

He has played only three games, all of those for Tairawhiti under-16 team who competed at the New Zealand Maori Rugby League national tournament last year.

His performance on the wing and at centre captured the attention of league scouts, who approached the team’s coach and management group of Chris and Wanita Brown.

Three NRL clubs invited him to scout training camps — the Cowboys, Canterbury Bulldogs and the New Zealand Warriors.

Wainohu-Kemp was surprised by the interest and the offer.

“I didn’t go to the tournament looking for anything,” he said. “I just went because I thought it would be a good way to have fun. The outcome was more than I could have expected.”

While new to the game, it was his work ethic, dedication and success in waka ama that spoke volumes to the scouts.

As well as being part of the elite New Zealand 19 crew at the worlds, Wainohu-Kemp will compete in W1 (one-man) for Horouta. He has won medals at previous world and national championships.

“My main sport has been waka ama,” he said. “I couldn’t even really commit to rugby in the past few years because of my waka ama training.

Waka ama worlds, then it’s all league

“Until last year I had never really been a good rugby player. Last year I started to mature.

“I never really thought I would make it in rugby or in league but the Cowboys recruitment manager had been watching me progress in waka ama since the league tournament.

“Ten months later we’re here and I thought I might as well take the opportunity. Waka ama ends in July and then it’s all rugby league from then on.

“A big thank-you to everyone who has helped me on this journey.”

Gisborne Tairawhiti Rugby League Association chairwoman Wanita Tuwairua-Brown said she was proud of Wainohu-Kemp’s achievements.

“This gives us all an idea of what opportunities are out there for our rangatahi.

“League has never been the number one sport here in Tairawhiti but just from that one trip, one rangatahi got through.”

Should Wainohu-Kemp earn an NRL contract, he would follow in the footsteps of another Gisborne Boys’ High product — Peta Hiku, who is in the Warriors first-grade squad and has played 10 tests for New Zealand.

League fans, remember this name . . . Keanu Wainohu-Kemp.

The Gisborne Boys’ High student has signed a contract with NRL club North Queensland Cowboys and will play at junior level.

The club is home to one of the biggest names in the history of the sport, Jonathan Thurston, as well as Tongan star Jason Taumalolo.

It also kickstarted the first grade career of rising star Kalyn Ponga, now with Newcastle Knights.

Wainohu-Kemp, 17, will move to Townsville in November to embark on this new and exciting challenge.

A talented all-round sportsman, he is most well known as a waka ama paddler with Horouta Waka Hoe Club and is a member of the New Zealand junior 19 elite club team to compete at the world sprints in Tahiti next month.

He was also in the Poverty Bay under-16 rugby team last year, playing at No.8.

With waka ama long being a major focus, he goes into this league opportunity very much a rookie.

He has played only three games, all of those for Tairawhiti under-16 team who competed at the New Zealand Maori Rugby League national tournament last year.

His performance on the wing and at centre captured the attention of league scouts, who approached the team’s coach and management group of Chris and Wanita Brown.

Three NRL clubs invited him to scout training camps — the Cowboys, Canterbury Bulldogs and the New Zealand Warriors.

Wainohu-Kemp was surprised by the interest and the offer.

“I didn’t go to the tournament looking for anything,” he said. “I just went because I thought it would be a good way to have fun. The outcome was more than I could have expected.”

While new to the game, it was his work ethic, dedication and success in waka ama that spoke volumes to the scouts.

As well as being part of the elite New Zealand 19 crew at the worlds, Wainohu-Kemp will compete in W1 (one-man) for Horouta. He has won medals at previous world and national championships.

“My main sport has been waka ama,” he said. “I couldn’t even really commit to rugby in the past few years because of my waka ama training.

Waka ama worlds, then it’s all league

“Until last year I had never really been a good rugby player. Last year I started to mature.

“I never really thought I would make it in rugby or in league but the Cowboys recruitment manager had been watching me progress in waka ama since the league tournament.

“Ten months later we’re here and I thought I might as well take the opportunity. Waka ama ends in July and then it’s all rugby league from then on.

“A big thank-you to everyone who has helped me on this journey.”

Gisborne Tairawhiti Rugby League Association chairwoman Wanita Tuwairua-Brown said she was proud of Wainohu-Kemp’s achievements.

“This gives us all an idea of what opportunities are out there for our rangatahi.

“League has never been the number one sport here in Tairawhiti but just from that one trip, one rangatahi got through.”

Should Wainohu-Kemp earn an NRL contract, he would follow in the footsteps of another Gisborne Boys’ High product — Peta Hiku, who is in the Warriors first-grade squad and has played 10 tests for New Zealand.

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