On Song: Kiwi Weller Hauraki is hitting the high notes in his second season with revitalised Castleford Tigers. Peter Smith reports.
Now in his second season at the club, Kiwi forward Weller Hauraki has been the unsung hero of Castleford Tigers’ impressive start to the year.
Hauraki’s strong performances in the second-row have been at the heart of Tigers’ five wins from as many matches in First Utility Super League.
The ex-New Zealand Maori international is now showing the sort of form he did during a season at Crusaders in 2010, which persuaded Leeds Rhinos to sign him on a three-year deal after the Welsh outfit dropped out of Super League.
He played only 35 times for Rhinos and was released a year early, but feels the extra time he is getting on the field now has contributed to his eye-catching early-season displays – though he insists the team playing well is more important than his own personal form.
“I am getting more game time and when you get more game time you get more form and more confidence,” Hauraki said. “That has really helped me. I think Powelly (coach Daryl Powell) has given me an opportunity and I have taken it.
“I am happy with the way I am going, but we have got a team goal and that is to make the top-eight. I just want to worry about that first and play well for the team. The team is the big thing and we are going really well. This is what we wanted to do from pre-season onwards.
“We trained really hard and we have thoroughly deserved everything that’s come to us. We need to keep the momentum going and keep playing the way we are.”
Winning is a habit and Tigers have managed to find a way to come out on top from a tough situation in each of their last two games.
After the last-gasp win over Wigan Warriors, they left it until the 74th minute to go ahead against Hull two days ago, in what Powell described as their worst performance of the season.
“Playing Wigan was a massive game for all of us and we knew that would take a lot out of us,” Hauraki said. “We knew we would have to dig deep against Hull and just hang in there. We knew it was going to be another tough game, but we stuck at it.
“We were behind a few times, but that is going to happen. We’ve been rattled a few times and come out of it and ended up on top. The way we are going at the moment we have got some momentum behind us, we are going really well and we want to keep it up.”
Team spirit is at the heart of Tigers’ flying start, according to Hauraki. Their biggest name, ex-Man of Steel Rangi Chase, left to join Salford Red Devils at the end of last season and there are no real superstars in the side, but Hauraki said there is an abundance of quality and experience and they are all willing to put their body on the line for each other.
“We are working really hard,” he said. “It comes down to that and we all want to play for Daryl, who has done wonders for the team. If the boys keep going like they are, nobody is going to want to play us.”
Mend A Hose Jungle is becoming a fortress again and crowds are on the rise, with 8,504 attending the Wigan game and 9,867 turning up to watch the clash with Hull. Stretching back to last season, Tigers are on a five-game winning run on their own turf, where they haven’t lost since August 2013.
This year’s three home victims – Catalan Dragons, Wigan and Hull – were all top-eight sides at the end of the previous campaign and Hauraki sees home form as crucial to their own play-offs hopes.
He said: “We really wanted to set that platform. We knew if we could get a few wins early we could get some momentum behind us and it would set us up to go well. We have got a lot of depth and that keeps everyone on their toes. I know if I have a bad game or even a bad day at training I might not be in the team.
“That’s a really good thing and it means you can’t have a bad game because there are other boys waiting to take your place.”
The big games keep on coming for Tigers, who visit big-spending Salford on Sunday. Chase has not played since suffering an injury on his debut against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last month and Haruaki said, whether he plays or not, Cas’ players will just be focusing on improving their own performance.
“We are just going to worry about going there and doing our job, like we are doing every week,” he stressed. “If we go out and do that we are going to win. We have got to be aware of what their players can do, but I think if we play our game we will get the two points.”
Meanwhile, Powell will be looking for a big improvement when Tigers vist AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday. He said: “I think the Wigan game took a lot out of us, it was a big effort from everybody and a very physical game. I thought we were a bit low on energy against Hull.
“I thought we scrambled well and we defended well on our own line to keep them out. We were under a fair bit of pressure, the game got a bit too quick around the ruck at times and we didn’t manage that well.
“It took us a while to get into the game and even when we did we couldn’t really find our plays.
“We went one-out in the first half and away from the way we had been playing, but we did find a way to win the game, which is most important.”