NZ Warriors captain Tohu Harris admits Saturday's clash with Brisbane Broncos will carry an extra dose of sentimentality, and understandably so.
The Hastings product will lead the Warriors out at a sold-out McLean Park for the first time in the club's history in front of hoardes of friends and family, hoping to round out a memorable homecoming week in fitting fashion.
It will be the second time the powerhouse forward has returned to his home region with an NRL side, after he was part of his former Melbourne Storm team's trip across the ditch to face St George Dragons back in 2015.
But now at the helm of one of the country's most beloved sporting institutions, Harris confesses this time around will be much more meaningful.
"It means a lot for me to take New Zealand’s only professional rugby league team back to where I'm from,” Harris said.
"It's pretty special, not everyone gets to do that and I’m fortunate to go back with two different clubs."
"We're New Zealand's only rugby league team, so anywhere we go in the country, especially a place that hasn’t had a Warriors game before, it's going to be unreal.
"I've heard from a few people already and the excitement levels are through the roof.
"With the game being sold out already it's going to be a great atmosphere."
Harris has been the team unofficial tour guide this week, with one of the most memorable stops on his itinerary a visit with the squad to his marae in humble Waipatu.
Adding even more weight to the occasion is Harris' desire to give back to his community in the wake of the devastation caused to the region by Cyclone Gabrielle back in February.
"They've obviously had a terrible thing happen down there," he said.
"It hits close to the heart knowing that people down in the bay area have been affected so severely so any way that we can give back, I'm sure the club will be willing to do so and bring some excitement to the area again, especially after so many families have been affected."
Harris played both rugby union and league as a teenager, juggling starring for Hastings Boys 1st XV with league in the afternoons at club level.
The rugby league community in Hawke's Bay was relatively small compared to its 15-man cousin, but Harris' persistence paid off, eventually being scouted and signed by the Storm at the age of 17 years.
When heavyweights Melbourne came knocking, Harris conceded the decision to do away with rugby for good wasn't difficult.
"There was no chance of getting anywhere in union, so I only had one option, so it was an easy one," he said.
"As soon as I got an opportunity to go to Melbourne, who at the time had played their third grand final in a row, it was hard not to take an opportunity like that."
But after a cup-filling week back in the Bay, Harris understands the importance of being able to flick the switch, put the occasion to the side and deliver on the field against the high-flying Broncos.
After some difficult recent seasons, Brisbane have shot out of the gate in 2023, at one stage leading the competition before hitting some recent skids - a situation that somewhat mirrors the Warriors'.
Now placed fourth, they'll enter Saturday's match with the Warriors on the back of a two-game losing streak, albeit against defending premiers Penrith Panthers and the perennial title-contending Storm.
They'll also be without a wealth of talent, with five players absent on State of Origin duty, including ex-Warriors star Reece Walsh, barnstorming wing Selwyn Cobbo and stand-out forward Pat Carrigan.
Harris quickly dismisses any suggestion that may make the Broncos vulnerable on Saturday night.
"It's not going to be an easy test because they've got a few guys out playing Origin," said Harris.
"We're going in expecting an intense, physical game and ready to play a team that works hard for each other.
"They've done that every week and iI guess that's a little bit like us in terms of the difference from the last couple of years.
"We're expecting a battle out there."2023-05-26T19:47:05Z dg43tfdfdgfd