'Couldn't ask for a better team to play for my 100th': Weber eyes old rivals
It’s been somewhat of an unconventional path, but Brad Weber will become just the eighth player to reach centurion status for the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon – and the All Blacks halfback couldn’t have asked for better opposition to notch up the milestone against.
Weber will join the likes of Liam Messam, Hika Elliot, Stephen Donald, Tanerau Latimer, Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Cruden as Chiefs centurions when he takes the field in the No 9 jersey this weekend.
Despite being a member of the famously strong 2011 New Zealand Under 20s side that boasted household names such as Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Charles Piutua, Weber didn’t immediately make the step up to senior professional rugby like so many of his teammates and struggled to catch a break for the Otago NPC side. Thankfully Dave Rennie, the man who had coached Weber with the Under 20s side, tossed the young scrumhalf a bone.
“I got dropped from the Otago team in 2013 so Rens and all the coaching crew that was at the Chiefs at the time threw me a little bit of a lifeline,” Weber said on Thursday. “Along with the Waikato team, Trent Renata and Johnny Walters, [they] got me up halfway through the [NPC] season, had a couple of good games and then Rens popped round to my house – I was staying with Brayden Mitchell – the day after we played Auckland and offered me a Chiefs contract for the next year. I went from playing Otago development two weeks ago to getting a Chiefs contract with Dave Rennie, it was amazing.
“So I owe a lot, particularly to that group, Rens and Andrew Strawbridge in particular, they put a lot of work in with me to iron out the kinks but also try and encourage the strengths. That’s what I loved about them the most, I’d come in here and they weren’t always talking about my weaknesses or what they wanted me to work on.
“Obviously they wanted to get everything up to a world-class standard but they were really excited about my strengths and what that could do for the team and that really resonated for me, right from day one. As soon as I heard that with those guys, I was like ‘This is home, this is where I want to be’.”
The following Super Rugby season, Weber made his Super Rugby debut in a tight contest against the Crusaders down in Christchurch when Tawera Kerr-Barlow went down with an injury the day before the match.
“I wasn’t meant to [play]. I was actually upstairs [at the Chiefs training facility] doing the game replacement, I was on the rowing machine getting absolutely thrashed and I think TKB rolled his ankle at the captain’s run or something so halfway through I got a tap on the shoulder to get off the rowing machine which I was pretty happy about.
“[The next day] I jumped on the plane and came on for the last 10 or 15 minutes. When I looked down [during the match], Hunger [Liam Messam] was on one side of the scrum and Richie McCaw was on the other. I was like ‘This is pretty cool’. That’s where it all started.”
Weber spent the first few seasons of his Super Rugby career competing with the likes of Kerr-Barlow and Augustine Pulu for game time but eventually edged ahead of Pulu in the pecking order and when Kerr-Barlow left New Zealand following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Weber became an all-but-permanent fixture in the No 9 jersey.
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Weber took over as the Chiefs’ temporary captain in Sam Cane’s injury-enforced absence last season and this year was named a permanent co-captain alongside Cane – something the 31-year-old never initially expected.
“I was always pretty happy to help out leading tactically and knowing we’ve got such good leaders with Sammy and stuff… His leadership style, the way he leads is something I’ve always looked up to and thought he [did] a pretty good job.
“But at the same time, when Donk [head coach Clayton McMillan] asked me to co-captain with him, I was pretty bloody proud of being able to do that too. Especially with Sam as well, he’s one of my best mates so it’s pretty cool to be able to do it alongside him.”
While many are quick to underplay their own individual achievements, Weber is well-aware of the significance of Saturday’s clash with the Blues.
“It probably isn’t just another game, it’s one I’ll remember forever,” he said. “And to be honest, it’s one I’ve been eying up for a number of years to try to get here too. So pretty bloody stoked to finally get there.
“I’m trying to play it cool but it’s hard not to realise the achievement’s a pretty big one. I look up at those guys on the wall, Liam, Tanerau, Hika, Beaver, Sammy, Guz and Cruds, and I’m like ‘wow’, I get to join those fellas who I’ve looked up to for my whole career and [they’re] some of my best mates as well. A very proud moment.
“To be honest, actually really happy to be playing the Blues for it as well. Couldn’t ask for a better team to play for my 100th. There’s no bigger game in a Chiefs jersey than against the Blues and if we can go up there and get a win at Eden Park, that’s been some of the sweetest victories I’ve been a part of so hopefully add another one.”
Looking back on his eight years in the jersey, Weber has a few highlights in particular from throughout his past 99 matches – including last season’s bounce back from the horror nine-game losing streak that capped of their 2020 campaign.
“Our run last year was pretty satisfying,” said Weber. “All the naysayers were ripping into us and then we got to prove what we were all believing here so that was pretty good.
“One other one I do remember is the Sharks game here at Waikato Stadium in 2019 and we scored this mean [try] – I ended up being on the end of it – right from the kick-off and we came back to beat a good Sharks team that night. Just hearing the roar of the crowd, I’ll remember rolling in and scoring that try and just giving [a fist pump] to the crowd.
“There’s been heaps, not even touching on the off-field stuff, that’s probably been my most favourite part of these eight years, the mates I’ve made. It’s starting to sound like it’s a retirement speech – it’s not, I’ve still got plenty more years in me so I’m looking forward to many more.”
Coach Clayton McMillan also highlighted the significance of Weber’s accomplishment on Thursday.
“I think any time anybody manages to play 100 games, whether it be at provincial, Super or international level is a huge achievement, particularly in the modern game where professional players really need to take their opportunities wherever they’re presented,” McMillan said. “That means you see a lot of transition of players from one environment to another but to be a one-team, to achieve that, I think is hugely admirable and we’re looking forward to getting out there and putting on a performance that will acknowledge the big contribution that Brad’s made to the organisation.”
The Chiefs take on the Blues at Eden Park at 4:35pm NZT on Saturday afternoon.
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