In a season where a series of below-par performances threaten Penrith’s chances of making back-to-back finals appearances for the first time since 2003-4, the performances of recent NRL debutant Corey Harawira-Naera is quickly becoming their shining light.
As one of the latest members of the club that recently fielded a record number of players with hyphenated names in a NRL game, the Kiwi back-rower is not only quickly becoming a fan favorite with his quirky post-try dance moves, but is making a very strong case for coach Anthony Griffin to keep him in first grade.
But despite not making his NRL debut until Round Four against Newcastle, Harawira-Naera has upstaged most of his more illustrious team-mates to become arguably Penrith’s stand-out forward in a pack that is struggling to match its 2016 performances.
However, with fellow Northland junior representative, James Fisher-Harris and other back-rowers already under contract for 2018 and beyond, the off-contract 21-year old may have to move elsewhere in order to secure a permanent first grade spot, unless the club dramatically reshapes its current roster.
There are no shortage of suitors either, with Cronulla and Melbourne reportedly among those clubs already said to be interested in securing the back-rower despite Harawira-Naera himself confirming his preference is to remain at Penrith.
Harawira-Naera, who hails from the small northern NZ town of Waimamaku (population approximately 200-300), admits that his time in the top grade could end once his good mate James Fisher-Harris returns from injury, but is nonetheless grateful to be given the opportunity to play in the NRL so early on in the season.
“I knew I was in there (first grade) because of the injuries but while it is still hard (knowing that I might miss out), I can’t really argue,” Harawira-Naera admitted.
“I didn’t think I would be playing first grade this early on in the season and I’ve surprised myself so far by staying there.
“Whatever the coaches thinks what’s right for the team is what happens and I’ve just got to get on with it and try and play as good as I can wherever I’m playing.”
Born in Auckland and the second of five children, Corey Harawira-Naera could have easily played for the NRL club he supported as a child; the New Zealand Warriors which would have pleased his mother, herself an avid Warriors fan.
But Northland junior representative coach, Jim Larkin had other ideas and through his close relationship with the Panthers, got in touch with the club who promptly came to watch both he and Fisher-Harris play before the pair were quickly signed up.
“Similar to Fish (James Fisher-Harris), I played a bit of rep footy for the Northland team and got a bit lucky I guess,” Harawira-Naera began to explain.
“But Jim Larkin, our league coach, knew a few people over here and hooked us up pretty much.
“They (the Panthers) came over and watched us play a few times and we got signed pretty quickly.
“It happened really fast as a month or two later (after signing) I was over here.”
The move from such a small country NZ town to the bright lights of Penrith certainly presented its challenges for Harawira-Naera despite having already made the move to Auckland.
But Harawira-Naera, who initially lived at Panther House, credits another Northland product, Elijah Taylor for making that tough transition easier, adding he wished the former Panther utility forward was still at the club.
“As soon as he knew we were over here, he’d always come out to see us every 1-2 months and have a feed with us and make sure everything was going smoothly,” Harawira-Naera said.
“I was a bit gutted when he left but he got a good opportunity for himself and is going really well.
“We still keep in touch now and then.”
Photos courtesy of 77 Media.
Harawira-Naera in making his NRL debut, scored his first try, which saw his now famous post-try celebration video released both live at the ground on the big screen and online on social media.
Whilst he was inspired to do the video as means of expressing him, Harawira-Naera now wishes all the hype and banter stemming from that video would die down.
“It (the post-try video) is something different as it expresses the kind of person I am, a bit of a joker,” Corey declared.
“A few boys had already done theirs already and I thought they were a bit boring, so I thought I would spice it up a bit, make it a bit interesting and have a bit of a laugh.
“But my family especially my mum couldn’t stop laughing after seeing it live following my first try in the NRL and I don’t think I’ll ever hear the end of it that’s for sure.”