Sweeney reconnects with his Waikato rugby roots
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 Lynn McConnell
Increasingly players are returning from overseas stints to finish off their careers in the environment that nurtured them in the game and it was no different for Sweeney.
"I love my Union. I'm born and bred in the Waikato, a proud Morrinsville boy. I love being able to come home and play club rugby, play in front of family and friends again. Waikato is a union that has given so much to me and I'm real stoked that I can come back and be part of it again," he said.
Sweeney said the talk was that the Waikato side looked young, but he said it was an exciting group with a core of experience.
They also had two members of the World Cup-winning New Zealand Under-20 side – lock Sam Caird and the side's captain Luke Jacobson.
Jacobson was a player to watch, Sweeney said. He can play either No.8 or blindside flanker and impressed in the side's pre-season play.
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"He'll be a household name by the end of the competition, mark my words," Sweeney said.
Performing to make the play-offs meant attacking each game consistently and not dropping standards. That was one of the lessons from last season.
Sweeney said the players had talked about the disappointments they felt when losing a key game to Northland last year because they had taken them too lightly and lost, and as a result they missed the semifinals.
"They're hurting from that but you live and you learn and hopefully they're learning. There's a very motivated group in the Waikato and we're looking forward to round one first, Taranaki away.
"It is a tough one first-up, they've performed really well over the last few years, but in saying that you always want to play against the best and they've been one of the best so it will be a good benchmark for us to see where we are at," he said.
Sweeney's passion for the province was also borne out while he was away and he watched plenty of the side's play from afar.
He has noted that players are making the side a lot younger nowadays.
"I can't really talk because I played for Waikato at a very young age but in saying that I was the youngest by about five or six years when I first started. Then we had a bit of influx of players like Richard Kahui and Brendon Leonard, Toby Lynn, Aled de Malmanche and Jared Payne who all came in pretty young and it was sort of unheard of.
"Now it is a very young group and I suppose with more guys going overseas that is going to happen.
"Schoolboys rugby has come up immensely. We train Tuesdays-Thursdays and I think they train more than we do. They're on TV, there's a lot more exposure around it and all that level coming up higher promotes guys to play earlier, so a big part for us this year is making sure all the traditions stay.
"Those traditions are one thing that could easily disappear if you've just got a whole bunch of young guys who are not connected to what the team was or where it's come from," he said.
There were also more players moving around for opportunities, and it was good that happened, but they still needed to understand what the Union meant to the Union itself and the players who were brought up there, Sweeney said.
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