Nonu gives 17 jerseys to Oriental Rongotai

KIND DONATION: Oriental Rongotai stalwart Ma'a Nonu donates 12 jerseys to his club. He is pictured with his sons Mercury (3 yrs) and Michael 6mths.
KIND DONATION: Oriental Rongotai stalwart Ma'a Nonu donates 12 jerseys to his club. He is pictured with his sons Mercury (3 yrs) and Michael 6mths.

Ma'a Nonu says it took him nine years, 66 tests and a Rugby World Cup to feel truly worthy of hanging a test jersey on Oriental Rongotai's clubroom walls.

On Saturday he did just that and then some in gifting 17 of his most prized jerseys to the club that his family has played for and belonged to all his life.

"Deep down this club means a lot to me," Nonu said this week as he helped put up cabinets to shelve a collection that will be the envy of rugby clubs the world over. "I was pretty much born and bred here. My dad [Kava] played 50-odd games for the prems and I was a ball boy, me and my brother growing up.

"Everyone in my immediate family has played for the club except Mum [Fale]."

In fact, all four brothers - Ma'a, Samson, Palepoi and Taulima - have worn the Ories colours and his two sisters are now in the women's team.

Those family links have pulled Nonu back to the Polo Grounds regularly since his test debut in 2003.

He wore the club colours on Saturday for the Jubilee Cup semifinal against Wainuiomata.

But it was only after lifting the World Cup he felt comfortable detailing his achievements on the clubroom walls.

"Hopefully the club enjoy it. It took a long time because when I first made the team back in 03 I lost my first test and then we went to the World Cup and then I got limited opportunities.

"I was in and out 04-05 then 07 I missed out on the World Cup. Probably only in 2008 that I really became part of the team.

"People ask why I took so long? I feel worthy now of presenting a jersey to the club.

"I always wanted to be an All Black growing up. I never thought I'd be one, but once I got there I wanted to be a great one and try and leave a legacy.

"My heroes were the big three, Tana [Umaga], Jonah [Lomu] and Cully [Christian Cullen], they were legends. I didn't just want to make it, I wanted to win a lot of tests and achieve something special.

"Now I can look back and feel like this is the right time to do this after winning the World Cup last year, that's a big factor. To break that 24-year drought was special."

The jerseys unveiled on Saturday night include five worn by Nonu, tracing his career from the New Zealand Juniors, sevens, two Bledisloe Cup tests and an appearance for the Barbarians.

The rest are ones swapped with opponents, including Brian O'Driscoll's, from Wellington's tour match against the 2005 British and Irish in Wellington.

"I wanted to provide all the countries I've played against. It's not every IRB country in the world, but it's most of them."

Oddly, one item not on the list is a jersey from last year's World Cup.

That's because Nonu only owns one and it is the No 13 worn by his longtime midfield partner Conrad Smith, who he swapped with after the 20-6 semifinal win over Australia.

Nonu swapped or gave away the jerseys he wore in pool play and during the quarterfinal against Argentina.

That left just one jersey, the one he values more than any and which he wore during the final.

"I was always going to give that one to my parents."

The Dominion Post