Matt Richardson and his family opened up their home for a homestay visitor this year, and were joined by Doom Ponini, the dynamic prop forward from Avatiu, who has spent the last two years at Rangiora High School.
“In terms of hosting Doom, it has been great for our family - we love the Cook Islands and the people and it has been great having Doom staying with us, we just treat him like our other sons,” Richardson said.
“We have learnt a lot about his culture. We have also had lots of fun with aunties, cousins and a whole host of Doom’s family coming visit us over the year.”
Richardson has noticed over the years how many of the boys that have made the trip to New Zealand are shy and quiet when the first arrive, but leave much more confident in themselves.
“I think being involved in a much bigger environment gives them more confidence, as does playing rugby at 1st XV level as it is a huge step up.
“They get the chance to become better rugby players, as the school often provides them with better core skills and mental resilience to add to the raw talent these lads often already have.”
This year’s family trip to Rarotonga was the second for the Richardsons, and although their primary reason for coming was to enjoy the island they love, Matt was also on the lookout for future potential players for the Cook Island Rugby Scholarship Programme run at Rangiora High.
One of the highlights of the trip for his boys, Hamish and Euan, was when they were approached by the Takuvaine U19 coach before their game against Arorangi, asking if they’d be interested in playing.
“He approached them as they were short of players and asked if they would play and they jumped at the chance. They had a ball and really enjoyed the game. They went OK, too I think, as they are two years apart. This was the first time they have been able to play together for 10 years.
“Also, while we were over we got the privilege to be hosted by Doom’s family at their home in Nikao. Around 50 of the extended family attended and welcomed us into their family, which was a wonderful and humbling experience for us.”