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Clayton McMillan compares new Chiefs halfback to former All Black

By Tom Vinicombe
Cortez Ratima. (Photo by Aaron Gillions/Photosport)

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In Brad Weber, the Chiefs have arguably the second-best halfback in New Zealand at their disposal and in 2022, they’ll have two exceptional young talents backing up the All Black for minutes throughout the season.

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Weber, who will enter his ninth season of Super Rugby when the competition kicks off next year, put his best foot forward for the All Blacks this season and were it not for an untimely head knock suffered against Italy, was odds-on to start in the New Zealand national side’s final two games of the season against Ireland and France.

Instead, the 30-year-old had to make do with just 30 minutes of action off the bench against Les Bleus and while he will undoubtedly make the most of an extended summer away from the game, Weber will likely enter the new season rearing to build off his solid outings in black throughout 2021.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

For similar reasons, 22-year-old Xavier Roe will be hoping to quickly put his best foot forward for the Chiefs during the pre-season after missing the latter half of the NPC through concussion. The Pauanui native made his Super Rugby debut earlier in the year and while he started out as the Chiefs’ third-choice option behind Weber and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Roe fought his way into the No 21 jersey for the Trans-Tasman section of the season.

With Tahuriorangi heading south to the Crusaders to try and reignite his fleeting international career, the Chiefs have now called up another Waikato halfback, 20-year-old Cortez Ratima.

Ratima was Roe’s back-up during the first half of the NPC season but following Roe’s injury, Ratima took over at halfback and made a solid fist of a handful of starts in the No 9 jersey. Already, the evidence was there that the young No 9 was likely to quickly ascend the ranks, with Ratima selected in the 2021 New Zealand Under 20s side, despite undergoing shoulder surgery late last year and playing next to no rugby in the lead-up to the team selection.

Although Roe may enter 2022 as the third-choice halfback at the Chiefs, there’s likely little between him and Roe and whoever impresses the most during the pre-season may get the first chance once Super Rugby Pacific kicks off.

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With Tahuriorangi heading south, McMillan said that Ratima was clearly the next cab off the ranks in the Chiefs region, even if he still has huge room for growth.

“We think he’s a real player for the future,” said McMillan after the squad was named last week. “He’s making a bloody good fist of his craft at the moment but we really, really like where we think that Cortez can get to.

“He reminds us a lot of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, another great Chief. He’s a bigger halfback, he’s combative, he’s a competitor and we think that he’s going to really challenge the other two in our environment for an opportunity in a match-day 23.”

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Ratima is just one of several Chiefs players to have featured in the NPC Premiership and Championship finals played last weekend.

Newbies Ratima, Finau and Wrampling were all on Waikato’s books this year, as well as Ollie Norris, Laghlan McWhannell and Simon Parker. Taranaki, who won the Championship, included the likes of Bradley Slater, Josh Lord, Kaylum Boshier and Pita Gus Sowakula.

McMillan said that the importance of those players getting some knockout rugby under their belt can’t be understated.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “First of all, I’m really happy for my old mate Barnesy [former Chiefs forwards coach Neil Barnes], he’s gone down to Taranaki and he’s been able to create something special down there. To go through a season unbeaten is pretty phenomenal, really, and they’ve played some bloody good rugby. It hasn’t come easy to them because they’ve had a whole number of injuries but they’ve still managed to maintain a high level so it’s been great for them and I think a lot of the Chiefs boys that are in that squad have played really well.

“And equally, Waikato. I like to think that they probably had a great six weeks living in the paradise that is Mount Maunganui but for them, it’s been bloody tough to effectively move away from home and base yourself in a hotel and yet they’ve punched their way through that and to see them win a final against a quality Tasman side was a fantastic achievement so congratulations to both of those teams and I really thought they played some great rugby and some of our players who have been selected in the Chiefs squad were at the forefront of those performances.”

The inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific is set to kick off in late February.

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