Just off Highway 1 in the Rangitikei district of New Zealand’s North Island , there lies a small community called Hunterville.
The township on the Porewa stream had a population peak of 546 way back in 1896, but in the census of 2013 its population had declined to 429, the railway station closed in 1988, the maternity hospital in 1989 and in the 1990’s three of its banks closed.
The town is best known for its statue of the Huntaway, a herding dog that uses its voice to control sheep, the steep hills of the Rangitikei would be impossible to farm without the dogs.
But Hunterville may be getting a new statue the way things are going, as it is also the home of Hadleigh Wayne Parkes.
The geographical similarities between home and Carmarthenshire are evident, and as the likeable Kiwi comes from a proud farming heritage, it may explain why the international centre feels so at home in Llanelli.
The people of Wales have taken Hadleigh to their hearts, a down to earth humble bloke, who Scarlets fans adopted as one of their own quite some time ago, but since December the whole country has grown to respect and appreciate the Kiwi centre, for his performances on the field, and his demeanour off it.
His debut for Wales on December 2 2017 against South Africa was treated with scepticism in some quarters, this was soon quashed after a superb performance scoring a try after 8 minutes, another after 33 minutes, topped off with the man of the match award.
He looked like he had been on the international stage all his life, if there were any nerves they certainly didn’t show once the match kicked off.
Pre match is another story, learning the national anthem from hours spent with his Scarlets team mates, Hadleigh was anxious to sing it and to sing it properly, another act that endeared him to the people of Wales.
“It was a huge opportunity and privilege to be able to represent the Welsh people”
His parents Bill and Janet missed his Wales debut, but his partner Suzy arranged for a video tribute to be sent from New Zealand from family and friends, which brought a tear to all our eyes as well as his.
Thankfully Mum and Dad made it to the Principality Stadium, in February, to see their son make his 6 Nations debut against Scotland.
“They were waiting until the team was picked, with their bags packed, were ready to go” says Hadleigh and when the call came they set out on the 12,000 trip to see their son in action.
Bill and Janet became celebrities themselves when shown on the big screen during the match and there was a lovely moment when their boy in the heat of battle glanced up to view Mum and Dad having a whale of a time.
“I caught them out of the corner of my eye, it was just a good laugh to see Mum and Dad enjoying themselves, and we were playing a good game of rugby as well”
It was a tough decision for both him and Suzy to leave home (New Zealand), but they were both keen to explore new cultures in the Northern Hemisphere.
Rugby playing offers came from France but having known Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac from his Auckland and provincial rugby days Hadleigh opted for the West Wales side.
Since then he has become the glue of the national team with his superb rugby brain bringing a coolness and consistency to the number 12 shirt.
The Northern Hemisphere experience could switch to Asia in 2019, as I have no doubts that he will be an integral part of Wales Rugby World campaign in Japan next year.
Hopefully Suzy and Hadleigh will partake in some further European exploration in the Basque city Bilbao in May, a champions cup win there with Scarlets, and there could well be another statue erected to a Hunterville citizen, this time one with two legs.
But the biggest match of all takes place in New Zealand in June where there will be two certain winners, Suzanne and Hadleigh, when they become Mr and Mrs Parkes.
That will be some “Shemozzle”