Video: 'I didn't think I was going to be good at it' - cross-code youngster John Akau'ola-Laula's rise to Baby Blacks honours helps him step out of older brother's NRL shadow

Stepping out of his brother's shadow, John Akau'ola-Laula is turning heads, rising quickly up the ranks in rugby union after just three years in the code.

Now, the former rugby league player is to represent New Zealand at the World Rugby Championship U20s tournament in France.

Akau'ola-Laula's older brother Sitaleki is a former Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers second row/winger who now plays in the Super League for the Warrington Wolves.

The 20-year-old said despite picking a different path to that of his brother, Sitaleki has always been one of his heroes.

"He has always been my idol," said Akau'ola.

Sitaleki Akauola of the Panthers in the Downer NRL Auckland Rugby League Nines match, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, February 04, 2017. Copyright photo: David Rowland / www.photosport.nz
Sitaleki Akauola. Source: Photosport

"Especially where he has come from, similar from where I've come from but we've gone on different tracks."

Akau'ola-Laula said his brother and family were extremely proud with his selection for the national under 20s side.

"He (Sitaleki) was stoked, just like with my parents – just like how every other family member would react, like emotional and yet so happy about it."

Akau'ola-Laula is of Tongan descent and he admitted he surprised himself with how quickly he picked up the game of union after his transition from league three years ago.

"I didn't even think I was going to be good at it, didn't know I would come this far."

The Auckland lock was part of the New Zealand side that took out the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship title earlier this month – with his side beating Australia 43-28 in the final.

"For me I just don't want to be known as 'were you that person's little brother'. I want to be known as myself," he said.

"With the work I have put in I want to be known for that."

The New Zealand U20 team kick off their campaign against Japan on May 31 with Akau'ola saying he feels the pressure of being the defending champs.

"Yep a lot. We try not to take that in as bad pressure."

Akau'ola-Laula sacrificed a move to Australia with his parents to pursue his rugby career, he lives in Auckland with his grandmother.

He was part of the Auckland U19 side that took out the Jock Hobbs national competition in Taupo where his side defeated Waikato 30-17.

The New Zealand team are to meet at Mount Maunganui to train as a squad tomorrow before flying out for France next Thursday.

John Akau’ola switched from league to union three years ago and is set to represent NZ at the World Rugby Championship U20 in France Source: 1 NEWS



Land Rover reclaims sponsored car from Israel Folau as fallout over social media comments continues - report

The fallout of Israel Folau's controversial comments continues with a key sponsor opting to distance themselves from the Wallabies star.

The Sydney Telegraph reports Land Rover has taken back their sponsored car from the Waratahs winger due to his anti-gay sentiments on social media.

The motor company did however emphasise Folau was never an official ambassador in the first place with car being part of a $850,000 deal Land Rover had with Rugby Australia.

It is the first financial backlash Folau has received since posting his religious beliefs on social media.

The 29-year-old probably isn't worried though - he can still get around in the $500,000 Lamborghini he purchased last year.

SYDNEY, NSW - MARCH 18: Waratahs player Israel Folau (14) looks towards the scoreboard at round 5 of the Super Rugby between Waratahs and Rebels at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on March 18, 2018. (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire)
Waratahs player Israel Folau. Source: Photosport


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'You're wondering who do we leave out!' Guy Heveldt says All Blacks' talent depth will see unlucky stars left out of squad

The unbelievable depth of talent the All Blacks have at their disposal currently will lead to some disappointed Super Rugby stars missing out at Sunday's team announcement.

That's the feeling coming from 1 NEWS Sport reporter Guy Heveldt ahead of this weekend's selections as the All Blacks gear up to host rivals France in a three-Test series next month.

Heveldt told TVNZ1's Breakfast there are three positions in particular which will be heavily contested.

"Number 8, the midfield and the wing," Heveldt said.

"Number 8 because Kieran Read is out of this series - he will go into camp and train with the team but he won't play - so there you've got no captain and you've got to fill Number 8."

Heveldt says there are two options to fill the void of the 108-cap loose forward.

"Luke Whitelock who captained the All Blacks last year and Jordan Taufua who is playing incredibly well for the Crusaders."

Heveldt says the All Blacks will likely take four midfielders in their 32-man squad, backing Test experience over recent experience to be the main criteria they go off.

"There's Nani Laumape, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rob Thompson - they're all really good players.

"I think they'll probably go with the Likes of Sonny Bill, Laumape and Crotty - I don't know about the fourth."

The same dilemma lies further out on the wing.

"You've got guys like Julian Savea, Wiasake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ben Lam who is scoring tries for fun - who do you pick from that?

"I think Ben Lam might be a little bit unlucky just because the All Blacks love picking players that they know and trust... he'll get a chance at some stage though."

Heveldt also backs either Sam Cane or Sam Whitelock to captain the side in Read's absence.

Possible All Blacks squad

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Ricky Riccitelli

Props: Joe Moody, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Owen Franks, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen

Locks: Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Vaea Fifita

Loose Forwards: Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Jordan Taufua, Liam Squire, Akira Ioane

Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi

First-fives: Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga

Midfield: Sonny-Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape

Outside Backs: Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith

With the All Blacks squad named on Sunday, Heveldt chipped in his picks for the team. Source: Breakfast


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