Player of the season Harrison ready to be even better at Saints
When the awards were handed out at Saints' end-of-season dinner, one man stole the show.
Just as fellow flanker Calum Clark had done the year before, Teimana Harrison claimed both of the night’s big prizes.
The New Zealand-born forward scooped the players’ and supporters’ player of the year accolades after a stunning season in green, black and gold.
Harrison had only really come into the team in the December of the 2015/16 season, stepping in to start when Tom Wood missed a game at Bath through injury.
But the 23-year-old never looked back, racking up 17 more starts and a total of 27 appearances.
Whether it was on the flank or at No.8, Harrison excelled, drawing plaudits from everyone from fellow players to pundits.
His dynamic style of play and never-say-die attitude won the hearts of the Saints supporters, and so good was he that England coach Eddie Jones was alerted.
“He must have eaten something pretty good at Christmas because his play since then has been outstanding,” Jones had said before handing Harrison his first shot with England.
The player was selected for the end-of-season tour of Australia and, though he got limited game time, the regard that he was held in by everyone with club and country was clear.
But for Harrison himself, it all came as a bit of a surprise.
“Like I said last season, I wasn’t really expecting to even play Premiership,” he said.
“I was expecting a couple of games when the boys were away with England and then to be thrown into starting for a few games was amazing.
“I learned well and to go away to Australia and be capped for England was a bit mindboggling.
“I would never have imagined anything like that happening.
“To go on tour was amazing and a good learning curve for me, to go and play a southern hemisphere team and learn their style of rugby.
“But that level brings out your faults and I’ve got a lot to work on. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting back there and hopefully get a game against South Africa in November.
“To beat Australia 3-0 was our goal going out there. Second in the world is not where we want, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“Beating Australia as a half-Kiwi is an amazing thing.”
But now Harrison knows he must back up his stunning season.
And he said: “There’s a bit of weight on my shoulders and I’ve got to try to live up to that this season.
“But I’ve got to try to make it into the team first because we’ve got amazing back row players here. That will definitely be a challenge.
“I’m honoured that I’ve got those awards last season, following in the footsteps of Calum Clark, who was a massive help to me last year.
“He walked me through everything, went through all my games with me and I owe a lot to him.
“Hopefully I can bring more good games to the club this season.
“You set the standard in your last season and I’ve got a bar. It’s a high bar to beat.
“For me, my goal is to better last season this season.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to and it’s the only way I’m going to learn: by pushing myself.”
So how much more is there to come from Harrison this season and beyond?
Well, the answer is an ominous one for the rest of the league.
“Massive amounts,” Harrison said. “Last season was just the beginning.
“I was just getting warmed up and getting used to playing at that sort of level.
“Now I’m a bit more comfortable, a bit more confident, hopefully I can learn a lot quicker.
“We’ve got awesome guys: Woody, Louis (Picamoles) and CC. Everyone’s pushing each other to go better. If you don’t, you miss out on the weekend, and if you miss out on the weekend, you miss out on England. It’s really important.”
This weekend, Saints will face Bath in their Aviva Premiership season opener at Franklin’s Gardens.
And it is a game that will bring back fond memories for Harrison, who really enjoyed the corresponding fixture back in April.
“The part that stood out for me was the Bath game when everyone stood up and clapped me,” said Harrison, who scored a try in a stunning solo display as Saints secured a crucial win to help them book a place in this season’s Champions Cup.
“I was like, ‘wow, this is what I want’.
“I want everyone to enjoy watching us play and if we play well as a team that would be great.”
Despite Harrison’s heroics, Saints only managed to finish fifth in the Premiership last season and they were knocked out of the Champions Cup by Saracens at the quarter-final stage.
And Harrison said: “If we’re not winning anything we’re disappointed.
“This year, our aim is to win silverware, whether that be LV= Cup, Champions Cup or Premiership. All three would be great!
“We’re definitely pushing really hard this year and we want to do better than we did last season.
“To us, it was a disappointment not to even be in the top four. It’s definitely what we’re working towards.
“The Premiership has always been a tough competition to perform in.
“You’ve got massive signings coming in from overseas and it will definitely be a dogfight, but we’re preparing the best we can and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”