Wednesday, September 22, 2010

There can’t have been many stranger sights back in the seventies than that of Onny Parun standing at the service line , all the while biting on a piece of string, as he prepared to serve.
Odd it may have been, but, one should never knock what clearly works. And work it did for the Wellington born Parun, who used the string to hold his head in place while serving due to a neck injury. That it could have prematurely ended the career of one of New Zealand’s finest tennis players would have been a travesty.
But, it didn’t deter Parun, who with some good old fashioned Kiwi number eight wire ingenuity came up with a solution to prolong his career. And there surely must have been many a Kiwi tennis fan that will be forever grateful that Parun was able to play on well into his thirties.
Parun, born in 1947 and of Croatian descent, paraded his ability on the word stage for close to seventeen years from 1966. During that time he became one of only three New Zealanders to reach a grand slam singles final. Having reached the 1973 Australian Open final against John Newcombe he fell at the last hurdle. Still, it was a magnificent achievement. Only Anthony Wilding before him had reached a grand slam final (Chris Lewis was ten years away at that stage). A quarterfinal spot at the US open also beckoned that same year.
Parun had threatened to for some time to break through to the top echelons of world tennis. He had already reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1971 and 1972 and was holding a world ranking of 20 during those two years. So, with his first grand slam final appearance in 73, he had definitely made it in the world of tennis. That form stayed with him for another three years as his ranking remained in the top twenty, culminating in a career high of eighteen in May 1975.
During that five year span, Parun was to team up with Australian Dick Crealy in 1974 to win the men’s doubles at the French Open. Surely, a fitting result for a player that had toiled away for so long, working hard on his game and never giving up, too come away with some of the spoils in a major tournament.
It wasn’t just doubles titles that Parun had the tenacity to procure. From 1974 through to 1976, he collected himself five ATP tour singles titles. Fitting, too, that two of these (1975/76) were in front of his home crowd at the then named Benson and Hedges Open, played at the home of New Zealand tennis, Stanley Street. On both occasions he beat his fellow countryman in Brian Fairlie. The 1975 vintage was of a titanic struggle. Plentiful action abounded in his marathon five set victory. One year later they did their version of Groundhog Day when they once again went into battle. Once again Parun prevailed in five sets.
Throughout his career, Parun could never be accused of a lack of commitment towards playing for his country. From early 1967 as a teenager through until 1982 at the age of thirty-five, he was the backbone of this country’s Davis Cup squad. Along with a core group of players of the ilk of Fairlie, Lewis and Russell Simpson, he helped New Zealand from the mid seventies until the early eighties to an unparalleled level of success in what is the tennis world’s premier team’s event.
Parun won thirty of thirty-two Davis Cup matches. This at first glance may not appear anything startling. However, over his fifteen years he had to contend with some of the world’s best such as Rod Laver, Newcombe, the great Ken Rosewall as well as the likes of Indian Vijay Armitraj. Pretty lofty company, indeed. To come close to a fifty percent winning record over a lengthy period was a mighty performance.
After his retirement from professional tennis, Parun, went on to live and coached successfully in Britain for twenty years. Which was a shame for New Zealand tennis to miss out on a person of the quality of Parun. And tennis, here, certainly could have done with his help, as it these days appears to be in downward spiral into oblivion.
Over the last decade he has returned to New Zealand and now coaches in Wellington. But there is no sign of Parun being approached to manage the Davis Cup squad. What better person could there be to help tennis in this country out of the doldrums? For Parun was a man that got results throughout his career not just from talent but, also, sheer hard work.
Despite this, he has been recognised in the form of an OBE for services to tennis.
It is a richly deserved reward for Parun who has dedicated his life to the game he loves, not to mention helping young players achieve their dreams.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Significantly different this finals football, isn’t it? A step up in intensity as well as a faster pace than some of you have ever experienced prior to this. Despite this, you blokes from the New Zealand Warriors gave it your all tonight up against the Gold Coast Titans at Skilled Park. You scored three tries, they scored five, and it showed as you were playing catch up football for the last twenty-five minutes of the first half, and at the back end of the match.
Sure, you had your moments, and one could have been forgiven for thinking that you were going to run away with the match, for during the opening fifteen minutes you had much the better of proceedings.
James Maloney made a tremendous try saving tackle on Titan’s winger Kevin Gordon early on. Once again Maloney was one of your best. Handles pressure well, doesn’t he. And he didn’t give away a penalty all night long. His kicking game was great for you; nearly gained a 40/20 on two occasions. But, not quite. All the same, some excellent metres were gained through his judicious use of the boot.
This was on the back of some fierce go forward as you directed your big forwards up the middle of the park. It paid handsome dividends as you gained large amounts of territory, too. Russell Packer led the way. So young, and yet plays well beyond his years. Just imagine how good this guy’s going to be in five years time. Not far behind were Captain Simon Mannering and Michael Luck. And what about Michael Luck, eh? Only three weeks ago he suffered one of the most horrendous leg gashes seen in the game of league when his left thigh was opened up so badly that it required fifty stitches. Wouldn’t play for the remainder of the season, some said. Yet, here he was, back after only three weeks. Tough as nails, he is. Balls bigger than basketballs, most would assume of this guy.
All this possession and you did what would be expected of any team in such a situation: you opened the scoring with a try to Aaron Heremia in the 7th minute. With the conversion to James Maloney, you had a 6-0 lead and looked like you were on your way to a home match in week two of the finals series.
But, you hit somewhat of a speed bump. A couple of penalties against you and a try to William Zillman in the 18th minute brought you all back to earth with a thud. For a time it seemed to take the stuffing out of you, as you seemed to be a touch on the flat side. The pace of the game looked to be taking its toll on you, as you were starting to miss tackles. None more so than in the 32nd minute as Zillman went over for his second try of the night and his side’s third. That he managed to bust through three tacklers and scoot away for a try ten metres wide of the left upright was not a glowing endorsement of your usually miserly defensive qualities. The 27026 strong crowd were in raptures.
Not long after, their delight became downright luminous, as in the 36th minute Matt Rogers had you all dumbfounded when he took an inside pass and run fifteen metres to score the Titan’s fourth try.
It wasn’t looking good for you at 22-6 down going into the break. But, to your credit, you came out in the second half and threw everything you had at the Titans. You began to gain momentum and gain a level of dominance over the locals. Two tries, one in the 48th minute to Jerome Ropati’s replacement Joel Moon, and then another to Manu Vatuvei -which gave “The Beast” the club try scoring record- in the 59th minute and it seemed that you were well and truly on your way back.
That was until Vatuvei undid all his good work by attempting to offload in an untenable position on the first tackle of an attacking set of six. This was not the first time that he has been guilty of such an act this season. Perhaps this is one of the few weaknesses in his game, currently.
What was worse for you was that this led to the Titan’s scoring in the next passage of play with a try in the left corner to Kevin Gordon. 28-16 to Gold Coast and this is where the score stayed.
You tried your mightiest for the remaining twenty minutes, but it seemed that the harder you pressed the worse you got. There were uncharacteristic errors from the likes of Lance Hohaia. You seemed to lose your focus on attack over the quarter of an hour. Why? Was it the pressure? It must have been hard, but all you had to do was maintain your composure. After all, you were starting to put the heat on the Titan’s during the third quarter. They were starting to wither against your onslaught, too.
But, it was not to be, as the Titan’s held on to their hopes of premiership glory in four weeks time.
Not so for you lot though. A nervous time over the coming two days awaits you as your fate is now in the hands of others as the wheel of fortune is spun.
You can only sit around hoping that it lands on the prize you now desire the most; the chance to redress tonight’s failings with a second chance somewhere, sometime in Australia next weekend.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It was always going to be a difficult little assignment. Up against a side that was out of contention for a finals spot, thus having nothing to play for other than pride, with a predilection for ad lib football was not the most intoxicating way to spend an evening.
But the New Zealand Warriors managed it with remarkable sang-froid in their 26-12 win over the Parramatta Eels in Sydney tonight. While they did commit some unnecessary errors at times, generally they stuck to the basics for the majority of the match. For them this meant gaining good go-forward early in the tackle count before any consideration was given to emitting the ball wide to their outside backs. Their young props Sam Rapira and Russell Packer were in fine fettle as they led the way with a rampaging display of power running.
What was best of all though was a stupendous defensive effort on their part. This has fast become the Warriors trademark.
And they showed in the opening five minutes just why teams have had so much trouble breaking through their defence. Parramatta had all the ball over the opening exchanges and threw plenty of attack at the Warriors. Despite this the Warriors held firm and then proceeded to pile on an inordinately large amount of pressure of their own right back on the Eels. After having forced their antagonists through the agony of four goal line drop-outs between the 8th and 13th minutes, Parramatta’s defence finally succumbed as Brett Seymour went to his left side attack before putting in a grubber kick for Centre Jerome Ropati to gather and dive over in the tackle of Jarrod Hayne in the left corner.
A promising start, it has to be said. This, sadly, was undone thirteen minutes later through inattention on the part of the Warriors players. Having just conceded a penalty and two metres out from their own line, the sharp minded Timana Tahu spied an opportunity when he took a quick tap and hurled his body over the Warriors line for a four pointer to give Parramatta hope of sending off Nathan Cayless a winner in his last match before retirement.
That hope was speedily snuffed out in the 32nd minute by a Warriors outfit hell-bent on going into the finals with good form on their side when Kevin Locke took control of an out of control chip kick from Hayne. Not enjoying the scenery in his own half so much, he decided to take a break from the drudgery of home life and headed off toward the right side attack in search of a more meaningful way of life. What he found was a like minded companion in Brent Tate who he offloaded too and bid a fond adieu to his mate Tate as he took a forty metre whirlwind tour alongside the right touchline to dive over for his side’s second try and give the Warriors a 8-6 lead going into half-time.
Unfortunately for them, they also went into the break with one man down as James Maloney was sinbinned in the fortieth minute for tackling Luke Burt without the ball in a blatant professional foul twenty metres from the Warriors goal line.
This didn’t deter the visitor’s however. By the time Maloney was back on the field in the 50th minute, they had not only negotiated their way through what was potentially a tricky ten minute with only twelve men, but also a penalty count that had ballooned out to 8-2 in Parramatta’s favour.
And yet the Eels could not penetrate the stoic twelve man defence of the Warriors. There was too much lateral movement and not enough hard running up the middle of the ruck from Parramatta. This simply made it easier for the Warriors to shut the home side’s attack down. That and the constant array of offloads gone wrong.
Eventually, the extra possession afforded the Warriors by Parramatta told on the locals, and the Warriors on a three try scoring spree over the space of twelve minutes starting with Jesse Royal dotting down under the crossbar in the 56th minute.
What was particularly impressive about the Warriors performance was the patience they displayed. Yes they offloaded when the time was appropriate, but, on the whole, they kicked for field position at the right times, hard yakka up the middle of the ruck was the order of the day. And they did it all with such aplomb.
That patience was rewarded in the 65th minute when Aaron Heramia ran from dummy-half and terminated any contact the defence may have wished to have with him as he escaped the Eels attentions to race thirty metres up field before passing to Locke who scored beside the left upright. With Maloney’s conversion, the Warriors were out to a fourteen point lead and the result was never in doubt from here on in.
Even more so after Manu Vatuvei dived over in the left corner three minutes later to give the warriors a 26-6 lead.
All that was left now was for Cayless to score a consolation try with six minutes until full time remaining. He didn’t get the win he would have liked to finish his career with, but, still, the last scoring play of the match was a nice end for the big bloke.
It didn’t hide the fact that Parramatta was comprehensively outplayed by a Warriors side that are hitting the apogee of their form at the right stage of the season.
Now all they have to do is carry that form on for another four weeks.

Warriors 26(J Ropati, B Tate, J Royal, K Locke, M Vatuvei tries, J Maloney 3 goals)
Parramata 12(T Tahu, N Cayless tries, L Burt 2 goals)