Up and coming Pacific rugby players in Taranaki are being given guidance on how to succeed both on and off the pitch as well as gaining the tools for life after the game.
Mauala’ivao Jack Kirifi is a Pacific Island liaison for Taranaki Rugby Union after living in New Plymouth for over two decades – a place he now happily calls home.
“Our community is not that big so it’s a lot easier to befriend someone when you see your own aiga or your family here,” Kirifi told TVNZ1s Tagata Pasifika.
“I think the main challenge here is adapting to your new environment and fitting in but it’s a lot easier over here because there’s not many of us so in some ways you’re forced to fit in.”
Kirifi has a son, Du’Plessis, who is now playing for the Hurricanes but there’s plenty more young talent he wants to see thrive in the region.
One player he’s taken under his wing and helped make the adjustment is 20-year-old Kini Naholo – one of All Black Waisake Naholo’s younger brothers.
Naholo moved from Fiji to Hawke’s Bay in 2016 and after taking the schoolboy scene by storm as a member of the Hastings’ Boys High School First XV, made the transition to professional rugby with Taranaki last year.
Naholo admits the change didn’t come easy.
“Probably one of the biggest [challenges] is speaking English because back home I just speak Fijian but when I came over, I really struggled with my English and can’t understand some of the words,” Naholo said.
Naholo said his English has improved immensely thanks to the fact he was the “only Fijian” in his school team so he had to learn the language.
Naholo now practices his English with his Taranaki Bulls teammates, having completed his first full season of Mitre 10 Cup rugby last year.
Based on his rookie season, many expect him to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
[Waisake] has done a lot for me and my other brother (Meli), he helps me especially,” Naholo said.
“He tells us what to do and look at him now - we want to follow him and what he does.”
But alongside a burgeoning rugby career, the Taranaki Rugby Union and Kirifi have worked with Naholo to consider options off the field, offering him work experience as a teacher aide at New Plymouth Boys’ High School.
Kirifi says it was a perfect match.
“Apparently, he’s fitting in really well over there so he’s helping the kids out and at the same time the school is loving him - with a last name Naholo!”
Naholo said he thought the job would be difficult, but he’s instead found a new passion.
“It’s probably something I’ll do after rugby.”
Kirifi is hoping to get other Pacific players in the region thinking about life after rugby too.
“Deep down in my heart all I want to do is just to equip our Pacific Island players and any other players that come under my watch,” he said.
“I think there’s potential in our people and they just need to understand there’s a lot more choices out there and we just need to equip them and give them all those options.”