Rugby: Praise aplenty for latest Ngāti Porou East Coast centurion Verdon Bartlett

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Former Hautapu rugby representative and Church College of New Zealand alumnus Verdon Bartlett, 36, has become the third Ngāti Porou East Coast player to reach 100 games in the union’s 102-year history.

Saturday’s Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship round-seven match saw NPEC beat the King Country Rams 29-11 at Ruatōria’s Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park.

The home side claimed the Bill Osborne Taonga for 2023, putting the icing on the cake for Hastings-born Bartlett’s milestone match.

Bartlett shares a unique record with teammate Sam Parkes, as they’re the only two players in the Heartland Championship to win the Meads Cup, Lochore Cup and Bill Osborne Taonga.

The utility back made his NPEC debut in 2008, becoming Kaupoi 1005, and has only missed one season since (2015).

Bartlett and Parkes were both involved in the longest first-class losing streak in New Zealand rugby between 2013 and 2021.

Even though they lost 54 consecutive matches, neither of them had any thought of moving or quitting.

Under the guidance of former Poverty Bay first five-eighth Kahu Tamatea, director of rugby and former All Black Hosea Gear and technical adviser and former world secondary school championship-winning coach Kim Harris, the NPEC side has gone from strength to strength – a reward for the players’ loyalty and hard work.

“Verdon epitomises a Haati Naati. For someone to clock up that many caps for NPEC when there were plenty of seasons where they went winless, but for him to keep showing up week in and week out, is a true testament to the mana of Verds,” NPEC head coach Tamatea says.

“[He’s] just a humble, quiet, hard worker who will play wherever you need him to, a real team man – the guy all coaches would want in their team.”

Gear echoes a similar view of Bartlett and his accolades.

“Verds is the epitome of a true NPEC cowboy. Selfless, hard-working, family, commitment, sacrifice, resilience,” Gear says.

“We know how hard it is for this team to get together every year, and for him to do it more than 100 times is incredibly amazing. He has been through everything with this team, from the highest of highs winning championships to the lowest of lows, not winning anything for eight years straight.

“There wouldn’t be too many people, if any, that have experienced everything that Verds has, and to do it every time with a smile on his face and trying his hardest, just goes to show the man he is.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Verdon, and I’m sure the whole iwi will join me in reflection and gratefulness for all that Verds has given to us.”

Former Manu Samoa international and NPEC teammate Faifili Levave says Bartlett “is a legend of the game”.

“I have full respect for the Coast boys who put their hand up to play for the Coast and the commitment it means outside of work and family commitments. To get 100 for East Coast, I wouldn’t even want to calculate how many games they have a year, because that is a long time coming,” Levave says.

“Then you factor in the amount of travel time, remembering these boys drive two to three hours just to get to training and then another two to three hours to get back home. Then the same amount of time to get back to the airport to travel if we play away.

“Rugby up the coast is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle. Verds deserves a golden sculpture.”

A Tihirau Victory Club (TVC) stalwart, Bartlett was part of the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield-winning squad in 2017 – their first East Coast rugby championship in 30 years.

He has also represented Tokorarangi.

Source: Waikato Herald