Umaga: Hard work paid off for Steelers

Getty Images     27 Oct 2012     Getty Images

Under the All Black legend, the former cellar dwellers of the second tier Championship division earned promotion to the ITM Cup Premiership when they blew Otago away 41-16 in an exhilarating home final on Friday night.

For a union that once faced possible relegation to the depths of the Heartland Championship, the dramatic turnaround has been enourmous for the South Auckland region. Still Umaga would have no part in being singled out as the main reason for the transition.

"It goes to the hard work these guys put in early on and also a lot of the lead-up work that a lot of people behind the scenes have put in within our union," he said.

"We're very conscious of the fact that we want to provide a positive legacy inside our community and we believe we've done that this year.

"Some of the boys that couldn't really carry on with us and some of those who laid the pathway for us and had to move on; our thoughts are always with them always and the legacy they left to us."

Signing as a player-coach in 2011, after a similar role in Toulon, nobody thought Pukekohe would provide the former All Black captain with his first major achievement as a professional mentor.

But just as he used to slice through defensive lines with ball in hand the former All Black captain said it was all about the timing of his tenure at Pukekohe, which coincided with a stage of maturity being experienced by the squad.

Players such as Tim Nanai-Williams, Sherwin Stowers, DJ Forbes, Mahonri Schwalger andSimon Lemalu not only power the high octane Steelers attack but also steady a composed outfit that fares well in pressure situations such as a grand final.

"The difference between us and Otago is that our guys are probably a little bit more experienced at this level," continued Umaga.

"We have a lot of old heads in our team who like to lead a lot and just a couple of words to them kind of sets things right.

"It showed a lot of our strengths in our attacking game. We scored some tries that a lot of teams couldn't score and that's just down to the natural talent we have."

One of New Zealand rugby's most valued sons, the former Wellington and Hurricanes back pointed to a decorated career which taught him valuable lessons that his Steelers used to produce one of the best seasons in the province's history.

"I only teach what I know and I only know from my experiences so I pass that on and hopefully it's enough for some of these guys," he added.

"It's very similar to the teams I've been a part of. It's probably a mixture of the Wellington teams and the Hurricanes teams of old. And probably the All Blacks where there's a bit more structure and there's one boss and when he says something they listen.

With next year's season looming over the horizon, Umaga insisted the road could only get tougher and that preparations would need to take place as soon as possible.

"I'm looking forward to it; it gives us something to plan," he said.

"There's a lot of time between now and then but I suppose there's never enough time and coaches are always moaning about the lack of time with teams and players and I suppose it's not going to be any different next year."