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Rookie winger Caleb Makene hoping to take his chances

Caleb Makene in action for the New Zealand Under-20s during his three-try effort against Wales.
PHOTOSPORT

Caleb Makene in action for the New Zealand Under-20s during his three-try effort against Wales.

 

Hawkes Bay product Caleb Makene hopes to be making an impact back in his home province this weekend.

The Tasman Makos' lineup for Saturday's Mitre 10 Cup rugby clash with the Magpies in Napier is still to be confirmed although Tasman's new winger is desperate to be part of the action.

Born in Napier, 20-year-old Makene arrived in Nelson last week via Canterbury's Lincoln University where he's been studying environmental planning and management for the past two years. He was signed by the Crusaders Academy following his last season with the Napier Boys High School First XV, which he captained, in 2014 but is now on loan to Tasman for the rest of the season.

Makene played for New Zealand alongside fellow Tasman Mako Quinten Strange at the World Rugby Under-20 championships in England earlier this year.

Used at both wing and fullback, Makene showed some clinical finishing skills, scoring two tries in New Zealand's opening 55-0 win over Georgia before scoring a hat-trick in their 71-12 rout of Wales in the fifth-place semifinal.

With Tasman's star winger James Lowe now sidelined with a broken thumb and Viliami Lolohea still on the comeback trail, Makene was given the opportunity to make his NPC debut on Tasman's left wing against Northland on a wet and windy Trafalgar Park last Friday. 

"I wasn't really expecting to get any game time at Canterbury other than just waiting around for an injury," Makene said. "But there's quite a bit of depth down there, so it was a nice surprise to be called up here."

The conditions were awful, but Makene didn't mind.

"I found it tough to get into the game just because of the weather but it awesome to be out there and a cool experience. Hopefully I get some more game time."

His promotion to NPC status isn't a complete culture shock.

"I did train with Canterbury a little bit while I was down there, so I knew what it was going to be like. Learning all the plays and getting used to the way Tasman plays is probably the biggest challenge, but it's all coming along pretty nicely."

Playing at international age-group level is one thing but according to Makene, it still doesn't compare with the intensity and physicality of mixing it with the big boys, even at NPC level. He certainly doesn't feel out of place.

"I definitely feel comfortable. Everyone else on the field makes it work, so they make me feel pretty comfortable out there."

Interestingly, he wore the No 10 jersey at First XV level but was switched to fullback at age-group representative level for Hawkes Bay under-16s and under-18s. He was also selected for the New Zealand Schools Barbarians side in 2014 before earning an injury-related promotion to the top New Zealand Schools team.

"I think fullback's definitely my preferred position because I've had much more game time there, but I'm happy as long as I'm on the field so I don't mind playing wing.

"Wing's good, it's just a matter of getting busy and learning as much as I can off the others around me and trying to make that position mine while I'm playing there.

"I'm just looking forward to enjoying it and learning as much as I can and hopefully get as much game time as I can. I just want to put my best foot forward to help the team achieve its goal of getting to the semifinals."