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'Who wouldn’t want to come here': Crusaders' latest wing recruit out of Northland

By Adam Julian
Heremaia Murray of Northland charges forward during the round six Bunnings Warehouse NPC match between Otago and Northland at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on September 10, 2023, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Geographically and culturally Northland and Canterbury are about as diametrically opposed as you can get. Yet the Crusaders have a history of turning players from Taniwha country into champions.

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Jack Goodhue (81 matches, 66 wins) was a mainstay of the Crusaders midfield that won Super Rugby titles every year from 2017 to 2023. In 1998, Norm Maxwell’s try in the final against the Blues was pivotal in securing an unlikely maiden championship at Eden Park. On the wing, that season was the late Norm Berryman. ‘Stormin’ Norman scored nine tries in 13 matches and won the hearts of Cantabrians with his flamboyant style.

Northland didn’t have a memorable NPC in 2023, winning just two of ten matches. However, left winger Heremaia Murray had a breakout season, scoring eight of Northland’s 28 tries. His pair in a 32-5 win against Tasman was an especially exceptional display. In 2022, he was part of a tenacious Taniwha outfit that won six matches, including first wins over Auckland in 46 years and Wellington in 22 years.

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“I would have preferred to have more wins than good personal form, but I’m excited to be going to the Crusaders. Who wouldn’t want to come here with their success and the people they have,” Murray told RugbyPass.

“Norm was before my time but I’m aware of his legacy. Jack Goodhue, I’m more familiar with. Rivez Reihana is here too, so it’s good to have that Northland connection.

“I’d attribute my form to greater game time and better connection with the boys. I’ve been in the environment for a while now and have the confidence to really express myself.

“It means so much more playing for your home province. Northland is where my family is from. The jersey is what I wanted to wear growing up.”

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Murray was raised in Te Hapua, the most northerly settlement in New Zealand, and Ahipara close to Kaitaia. He attended Te Kura Kaupapa Maori Pukemiro, where his father Mike was the principal. Rugby came naturally to Heremaia who settled among the forwards in often free-spirited competition.

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In 2014, his world would be turned upside down. The year 10 student was sent to board at Auckland Grammar School.

“There are more people at Grammar than there are in Kaitaia. You’d walk down the hallway and see a face you’d never see again.

“I played Under 15s and second XV in the forwards. In my final year, I made the firsts, and the coach took one look at me and said, ‘You’re a winger. I was like, ‘What bro.’”

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Dave Askew was the coach. He’s been around teenage boys for a long time. In 2014 he coached the First XV to a 1A title. Future All Blacks, Reiko Ioane, and Shaun Stevenson blossomed. In 2017 he was coach of the Auckland Under 19s who won the Jock Hobbs National Memorial tournament.

Askew mentored Kiwis and All Blacks winger Matt Duffie who underwent a similar conversion.

“Dave’s a good coach and a better person. He took an interest in you and explained things. There are lots of people out there whose lives he’s influenced,” Murray acclaimed.

Heremaia became something of a legend at Grammar in 2017. He snatched an intercept and sprinted 80 meters to win the annual grudge match against King’s College 17-13. A crowd of more than 5,000 people were in attendance.

“I don’t remember much about the intercept. Once it was done, it was on to the next job. Grammar instilled that attitude,” Murray said.

“What I do remember is the hype and excitement around the match. Those big First XV games you’d circle in the calendar even if you weren’t playing in them. It was a massive deal, a real highlight of the year, and some of those games used to be on TV which was big.”

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While driving a truck, Murray had stints with Counties Manukau and Auckland, where he played in 2021. He was selected in a New Zealand Under 20s training squad but found his feet back in Northland.

Murray will be competing for a place on the wing in the Crusaders with Sevu Reece, Macca Springer, Manasa Mataele, and possibly Dallas McLeod who covered the right wing so admirably last year.

The Crusaders start their Super Rugby title defence in Hamilton with a final replay against the Chiefs on February 23.

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