Warrior shows the way

From prison cell to the NRL

SARAH CODDINGTON AND DANIEL LANE
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2014
Suaia Matagi
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX MEDIA
PRISON STORY: Up-and-coming Warriors star Suaia Matagi, at home in West Auckland, tells his story.

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Warriors player Suaia Matagi has done his time inside. Now he is using his story to help encourage youth to make the right choices.

He has teamed up with director Lily Su'a to help create A My Story Project - From Prison to the Palace showing at Mangere Arts Centre tomorrow and Thursday.

Ms Su'a says the 25-year-old father-of-two shares his story with frankness and parts of his tale have never been told before.

Matagi was a gang member at 15. A mission to avenge a friend's mother who had been bashed hit over the head with a bottle by a rival group led to him punching some boys his age in West Auckland.

"When I heard a mate's mother was bottled it sent me over the edge. I wanted to hurt somebody that night.

"I was out on my regular routine, getting drunk with the boys and wanted to find who did that to my mate's mum.

"The opportunity came when I saw a group walking up the street. Next thing, I was standing over two badly beaten boys and later that week I heard one was in hospital.

"I knew this would come back to haunt me and it did when I was sentenced."

Matagi was jailed for three years in 2006. He thought he would get a slap on the hand because he was a teenager. But he was 17 and old enough to get a sentence.

"I met the boys face-to-face before I went in and that motivated me to change. I'm trying to organise it so one day I'll see them to let them know I'm a changed person.

"I don't know who that guy was any more because I left him in prison."

His story is one of the main acts in A My Story Project - From Prison to Palace.

Matagi tells the tale he describes as a source of personal shame in the hope of influencing young men to realise there are consequences to their actions.

"I was in a prison cell with my hands cuffed behind my back," he says.

"That memory is the permanent mark of a criminal; it's not only the shirt that distinguishes you as a prisoner, it's moments."

Matagi spent his time in prison trying to better himself. Taking part in prison sport lead him to a dream of playing in the NRL.

"I had a dream at six to play in the NRL and represent Samoa but I'd lost it when I turned 12 and headed the wrong way.

"I thank God for restoring that dream. He gave me hunger, he gave me hope."

Out of prison he played for the Te Atatu Roosters, then the Mt Albert Lions and was named New Zealand domestic league player of the year in 2012. He joined the New Zealand Warriors squad on a pre-season trial contract early last year and was selected to play for Samoa in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

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Hear more of Matagi's story and those of other young people at Mangere Arts Centre from 7pm till 8pm on January 22 and 23. Tickets are $10. Call 0800 289 849 or go to eventfinder.co.nz for information. Door sales available if there is space.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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