It may seem that the only pathway to becoming a professional rugby player is to attend a prestigious boys’ school, get selected for an important representative team and then join an Academy where your every need is catered for. Joseph Penitito, the highly rated Number 8 from tiny St John’s College in Hastings, is bucking that trend.
Joseph has been the subject of considerable interest from other schools, but is staying put at St John’s. What has Joseph been offered? “Schools in the area have offered me scholarships and that includes paying for my education and rugby stuff, they’ve been very generous.” So why stay at St John’s? “I’m Catholic and my faith is important to me. I love my school and have good relationships with the people here.”
But if Joseph’s dream is to become a professional rugby player, surely little St John’s is not the right school for him? “I would love to carry on playing rugby after school and will work hard to achieve my goal,” he says. But Joseph concedes, “Rugby is really competitive and many don’t make it. If I can’t be a rugby player I am looking to join the police force.”
This is a well balanced young man. Despite being a member of the First XV for four years, rugby hasn’t become all consuming for Joseph who says family, faith, education and loyalty are priorities in his life. In fact rugby, a game that Joseph plays so well that in 2011 he was selected for the Hurricanes Schools team, has also been cruel to Joseph. “When I was in year four, I was told I was too big to play to rugby and my club told me to go away.” Joseph says “I played soccer until I arrived at St John’s – where it was expected that, because of my size, I would play rugby”
Joseph trialled for the First XV in the third form and was selected for the 2nd XV. He made the First XV in the fourth form and recalls being “scared” of facing bigger players. Joseph quickly overcame his fear to become one of the best schoolboy players in the Hawke’s Bay.
The Hurricanes selection in 2011 was followed by appointment to the captaincy at St John’s this season. In fifteen games Joseph has scored over twenty tries and impressed in the new Central North Island competition which has seen St John’s face much stiffer opposition. “The new competition has been a big step up for us. The rugby’s quicker and more physical but we enjoy the challenge of testing ourselves against top schools.”
What’s the hallmark of Joseph’s game? “I love the power game, running hard and tackling with force are two things I enjoy.” Sprinting and throwing are two skills that Joseph can certainly lay claim to. He has competed at a national level in 100 meters sprinting and in shot put against Olympic hopeful Jacko Gill.
Despite the tougher competition and Joseph’s obvious athletic prowess, which has got the Hawke’s Bay talking, Joseph has been strangely omitted from the Hurricanes camp for promising schoolboy players in the area this year. Joseph has been told he needs to improve his work rate and bulk up, because at 95kg he is relatively small for a forward. Joseph says he will work harder to get bigger but if rugby doesn’t work out he is happy to train as a policeman. However with fans like All Black Israel Dagg, who praised a speech Joseph made at a Hawkes Bay sports awards ceremony recently, who would bet against Penitito reaching the top the hard way.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Joe and his coach Grant McFarland for their time.