Jason Emery was at a crossroads in his career at the start of 2018. His contract with the Highlanders had come to an end. While he had spent the off-season with the Hurricanes, nothing was set in stone and he wasn’t sure where his career would head next.
“And yeah Jamie Joseph rang me up, and just said they needed some cover and that he had a club for me if I wanted to stay, which for me was perfect at that time,” Emery says.
Joseph had coached Emery during their time together at the Highlanders, and it was that previous relationship, Emery says that saw him head north, “yeah it’s kind of good to keep those bridges, don’t burn ‘em down when you leave. Yeah pretty thankful for Jamie for giving me the opportunity to come over, I’ve loved it.”
Emery describes his Japanese as ‘broken’, but is wanting to eventually become fluent, “I could probably go out and get a meal for the family,” he says. He has been undertaking weekly language classes provided by his Sanix Blues club.
Jamie Joseph has since taken on the role of Japanese national coach, and Emery says he is open to representing Japan should his path lead him that way, “obviously growing up I wanted to be an All Black, and obviously, that hasn’t come true. Obviously I want to play internationals, so if that does come up I’d love to play for Japan.” However, the former Palmerston North Boys High student wants to be more than just a rugby player for Japan, “I’d love to learn the culture more and obviously speak Japanese fluently, instead of being a foreigner playing for Japan. If that does come about I want to definitely learn it.”
He has a long time to wait, eligibility rule changes now mean players have to wait 5 years before becoming eligible for an adopted nation, and he admits there is a bit of water to go under the bridge. I think I will be 28/29, so getting a bit older by that time comes around, but yeah we’ll see what happens.”
The utility back played a key role in the Sunwolves historic first away Super Rugby win against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday, a result Emery says no one else expected, “obviously no one gave us a chance outside of the Sunwolves group, and as a group we just believed that if we could play the way we wanted to play we’re always a chance, yeah I think the way we play was real clinical and we stuck to our plans."
“I think there’s a lot of boys who are proud, and the Japanese boys are really proud as well. To see them kind of nearly in tears after was, that was a feeling of kind of helped, we’ve achieved something pretty great here after the game, the good thing was we don’t want to end it there, like we don’t want to be the team that plays well one week and then drops off, you know. So at this competition we got to keep playing well every week.”
They take on the Blues this weekend at Albany’s QBE Stadium. Emery is well aware the Blues 0-3 record, and the Sunwolves’ result in Hamilton means they will encounter a tough Blues team, “we know we won’t be seen as you can just turn up and beat the Sunwolves anymore, and that’s what we wanted to do this year. Yeah we know we can’t just turn up and catch people off guard,” he says.
He is, however, looking forward to a potential clash with an old Manawatū Turbos team mate of his, Otere Black. The pair combined for a brilliant try against Wellington in 2016, when Black executed a kick-pass that Emery ran onto. “If I’m in the backline I’ll watch out for his little kicks,” Emery says, “it’s probably the first time I’ve played against him, no doubt it’ll be fun and obviously can’t just worry about him, you got other big, big players outside of him as well. Yeah, it’ll be fun to go up against him and obviously after we’ll probably have a beer and that as well.”
The Sunwolves play the Blues on Saturday night, kick off is at 7.35pm.