Olympian plays for Tauranga at water polo champs

Joseph Kayes has been training at Baywave multiple times a week with the Tauranga men’s team to prepare for the NZ Nationals. Pictured with his son Jai Kayes. Photo: Daniel Hines/SunLive.

Joseph Kayes’ water polo career is about to come full circle, as the Olympian prepares to play for Tauranga men at the NZ Nationals starting tomorrow.

After a 10 year stint overseas, he is happy to be back playing alongside familiar faces from Tauranga Water Polo – the club where his passion for the sport began.

Kayes reckons the men’s team have a strong chance of taking out the national men’s title at the NZ Interclub Championships.

"There’s no pressure obviously as it’s not professional – but we put the pressure on ourselves,” says Kayes.

"If we didn’t win we would be very disappointed, so from that side of things we are definitely taking it pretty seriously."

Kayes, who was playing in the LEN Championships League for Italian team Pro Recco, returned home in March this year as the coronavirus pandemic worsened in Europe.

“We came back in March not knowing if the season was going to be cancelled, and we were still paying rent in our apartment in Italy. Then it was all thrown out the window, as were the Olympics.

“The pain of losing the last season was pretty short-lived, and we were pretty quick to be thankful for the fortunate position we are in – to be back home with family and friends. People don’t really understand how bad it is over there.”

Plans to play for the Australian team at the Tokyo Olympics were also put on hold, he says.

Despite missing the professional scene in Europe, Kaye’s says it’s great to be back playing with some of the Tauranga guys he coached years ago.

“My dad started this club years ago with a couple of others. In a way, it is like a full circle now that I am back to play this tournament towards the later years of my career.

“It's nice to be back in the pool, and it is good to be back with some of the guys that I coached when I was younger.

“After being in lockdown for months, training and playing has been a great stepping stone back to normality for me.”

He says it’s great to see how much the club has grown over the years.

“The club has grown a lot since I was younger, and proof of that is the under 18 boys winning the national title last week. And it’s good to have a solid men’s squad, good quality training and a lot of guys who are keen to play.”

A couple of the Tauranga players could even make it professionally overseas, says Kayes.

“Some of them are guns. They are the top players in the country and some of the young guys coming through could even make it overseas.”

His advice for young water polo players looking to play professionally is to take opportunities as they come.

“When you get offered these opportunities you have to take them and not look back.

“It’s an eye-opener leaving from New Zealand and seeing how big the sport is in some of those European countries. And part of the fun is trying to make it in those countries. A lot of energy has to be put into it, but I think it’s worth it.”

Kayes isn’t quite sure how the next few months are going to pan out, but he does know that the move back to the Bay is permanent.

“We are trying to figure out at the moment with Water Polo Australia how the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics is going to look.

“It is likely I will be spending the better part of six months from January through to the Olympics in Sydney. But home is here again now, and we aren’t looking to live overseas again.”

The National Water Polo League is New Zealand's premier domestic water polo competition for 2020.

The tournament will be held at the National Aquatic Center and AUT Millennium this Labour Weekend.

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