Toast of the Coast
Tolaga Bay's Tipene Meihana has been crowned the winner of Three's programme 2nd Chance Charlie.
After eight weeks of gruelling training and learning, Meihana was unanimously chosen by former All Blacks and competition judges Stephen Donald and Liam Messam as the winner.
The show gave five aspiring rugby players a second chance to achieve their goals after they missed the opportunity to play professionally when life threw them a curveball.
In its second season, the show's length was increased from a five-minute on-demand offering to a full 30-minute slot on Thursdays at 9.30pm.
Donald said Meihana's level of desire was a determining factor in him winning the three-month personalised training, mentoring and development programme with the Hurricanes, and $15,000 with the support of 2degrees.
“We saw a level of dedication and want, which separated him from the rest, and with age on his side, we see someone who has a real shot of making it.”
Meihana said receiving a glowing review from such high calibre players had given him even more motivation to keep chasing his childhood aspirations.
“Them giving me those comments, that drives me even more. . . I want that dream even more.
“All the doubt and all the barriers that I've had, they keep driving me every day. I got scouted for rugby but I turned that down. It's probably the biggest regret of my life.”
He had found it hard to keep his win a secret for the last month, but he was able to share the news with his closest friends and family.
Meihana learned he had won the show at his 21st birthday celebrations, with his mother giving him a video message from judges Liam Messam and Stephen Donald just after he'd blown out the candles on his cake.
He was the youngest and one of the most accomplished contestants on the show.
He excelled at rugby in his teens, playing for Ngati Porou East Coast, New Zealand Heartland under-19s, Tasman Maoris and the Hurricane's Heartland u20s.
But hailing from a small community meant he didn't have the chance to get in front of selectors.
As part of the show, one of Meihana's local club games was shown on national television during his home visit and he “had the opportunity to show Uawa to the world”.
Without the support of his girlfriend, who sent in an application to the Three show on his behalf, Meihana said he would have never had the opportunity.
The training, mentoring and development programme with the Hurricanes will give him the springboard he needs to achieve his goals of playing rugby professionally, he said.
“It gives me the help I need to be a better player on and off the field. Having that support is huge for me to keep building (as a player).”
2nd Chance Charlie presenter and former professional player Joe Naufahu said Meihana had a “great Cinderella story” during the finale.
“This is a huge win for Tolaga Bay, this is a huge win for small-town New Zealand. They've got a hero in Teeps (Tipene).”
The biggest thing holding Meihana back is his size. He weighed in at 75 kilograms at the show's conclusion after putting on four kilograms over filming.
Several references were made to him needing to “bulk up” if he was to achieve his dream of becoming a Super Rugby player.