Local Focus: East Coast teens scouted for Japan

Local Focus: East Coast teens scouted for Japan

Hicks Bay 16-year-old Liam Henderson has been offered a $400,000 rugby scholarship at Yamanashi Gakuin high school in Japan.

His agent, Gisborne local Luke Bradley who lived in Japan for 10 years, has started his own Rugby Agency LRB Sports, which is helping create opportunities in Tairāwhiti.

LRB Sport focuses on women’s seven-a-side rugby players, coaches, scholarships for high school and university students, and works with the men’s teams in Japan.

Bradley said he knew straight away that Liam was something special after watching him play for Fraser High School and the East Coast under 16s.

“What I liked about Liam was straight away you could see he was very coachable, well mannered and very respectful,” Bradley said.

“He had some raw talent that could be unleashed in the high school system there in Japan.”

Liam’s mum Jade Henderson said Liam started playing ripper rugby aged five, when she was questioned about his age.

“He was quite big for his age, so we had to show his birth certificate,” she said.

When Liam progressed to tackle rugby he had to play up two years because of his size.

Now aged 16 he stands six-foot-one, weighing 115kgs, and often gets mistaken for a 20-year-old.

He began playing club rugby in Hamilton for Te Rapa, before moving home to Hicks Bay to learn his whakapapa and te reo.

While home he played for the Ngāti Porou East Coast under 13’s and 14’s.

He returned to Hamilton for high school, and continued playing throughout his high-school years, this year making the first XV.

Liam is also skilled at Kyokushin, a Japanese form of martial arts.

It is similar to kickboxing without punches to the head.

His father Warren took him along to his first class aged 3 and by the time he was 7 earned a child’s black belt.

He hopes to further develop his skills in Japan.

“Hopefully I get to spar a few people and practice Kyoskushin over there, sparring is fun, it toughens you up,” Liam said.

“I’m nervous because I get homesick, but it’s good I get this opportunity.”

Also preparing to head offshore is 16-year-old Jordyn Tihore.

She landed a similar contract last year, but it’s been a rocky road.

Covid disrupted her plans to travel to Japan after Japan closed its borders.

Tihore has kept proactive attending weekly Japanese classes via Zoom and continuing to play high-level rugby, for the New Zealand under 18 Māori and Poverty Bay Women’s team.

It was recently announced she will be allowed to travel to Japan.

While some say people from small townships on the East Coast can have disadvantages, these two teens are proof that with hard work anything is possible.

Local Focus: East Coast teens scouted for Japan

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