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 /
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