- Nottingham are sixth in the Greene King IPA Championship
- Harris joined Nottingham from Bedford Blues
Heard the one about about a replacement hooker who scored a hat-trick in 10 minutes? You have now.
Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris did the unthinkable for Nottingham last week by notching a treble against Yorkshire Carnegie.
The Green & Whites might have lost the game 24-17 but Harris stole the headlines as he came on 12 minutes from time and quickly got to work with three tries to give his team a losing bonus point.
Try, try, try!
The 22-year-old’s eye-catching cameo at Lady Bay surprised a lot of people at the club, not least Harris himself.
80': TRY NOTTINGHAM!!!!!A hat-trick for TJ Harris, and the con is GOOD!— Nottingham Rugby (@NottinghamRugby) December 26, 2016
“I was quite shocked if I’m honest, I was on for a total of just over 10 minutes,” he said.
“All the tries were fairly similar, they were from mauls. I came on and my first touch of the ball was from the maul.
“The second try was from a break off, and the third one I broke off the back once more and sprinted in.
“My teammates were very surprised, and so was I to be honest – it was surreal. It was certainly a memorable moment – I don’t think I’ll ever get a hat-trick again, I think that will be the one and only one I get.”
Harris was hardly a rugby prodigy growing up. Instead boxing was his first love; he idolises Muhammad Ali, with Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis his other heroes.
However, despite boxing being in the family and being part of his youth, it failed to hold his interest into his teenage years.
Instead he turned to rugby and has approached the game with fresh eyes after one of his friends at Woodlands Academy in Coventry threw him a rugby ball and told him to try the sport.
“To be fair, I got bored of boxing,” he said. “I used to box from when I was seven to when I was 14, before I packed it in. I had a year out and one of my mates at school said ‘Why don’t you play rugby?’ This was in year 11 and I was 16."I started playing and I fell in love with it."
“I started playing and I fell in love with it.”
But his time in boxing does carry some legacy with Harris, who says the intense training of preparing for a bout has contributed to his determination and motivation in his new sport.
“Boxing training is quite tough,” he said. “It’s such a self-motivational sport, so I suppose I’d take that type of mentality into training and matches.
“But I don’t go around punching people or I’d never play.”
Harris joined Nottingham from Bedford Blues, where he had played for 18 months. Prior to that, he played in New Zealand for North Otago, an experience he credits for improving him as a person as well as a player."I like to cook anything with meat in – it doesn’t matter what, it can be anything."
He explained: “I think I learned more lessons as a person, even though the rugby out there was fantastic, I learned more as a person and growing up as a man.”
Away from the game, Harris is a fan of action and comedy films, as well as being a keen chef. He does not have a signature style, but there is one requirement to all his dishes before he starts.
“I like to cook anything with meat in – it doesn’t matter what, it can be anything," he said.
Nottingham are currently sixth in the Greene King IPA Championship with five wins from 12 games. They are just two points off third-place Ealing Trailfinders and very much still in the hunt for a top-four finish and play-off place.
Harris believes the team is building a solid base to push on to the next level, and insists if they can improve their consistency, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for a play-off spot.
“We’re just trying to do the little things at the moment, some games we’re there and some games we’re not,” he said.
“It’s about finding the consistency. If we can get the little things right in a game that can prove to be turning points, then we’re almost there.
“I want to keep pushing myself to the highest standard possible and get better with every game I play,” he said. “I always try to do as much as I can to help the team perform.”
If he chips in with a few more performances like his 10 minutes against Carnegie, he will not go far wrong.