Rugby was not Lua Lokotui's primary focus when he moved to Wellington over the summer.
After five years playing overseas, first with Stade Francais and then the Kintetsu Liners in Osaka, Lokotui was ready to return. Wellington was his wife's home town and seemed as good a place as any.
The former Hawke's Bay captain, who played 75 games for the Magpies between 2001 and 2007, was just off a successful World Cup campaign with Tonga and ready to rest for a while. Instead, old mate Fa'atonu Fili talked him into doing a bit of pre-season training at Marist St Pat's and a few months down the track Lokotui is in contention to make an unexpected return to the NPC ranks.
Wellington coach Chris Boyd was technical adviser to the Tongan World Cup team, where he got a first-hand appreciation of Lokotui's talents. He rewarded the lock's strong club performances with selection in this week's Wellington trial, where he again impressed.
Time will tell is that leads to a Lions jumper.
"It's out of my hands. To be honest, I'm just happy to be home," Lokotui said.
And back in the city where Tonga produced one of the finer performances of last year's World Cup. Unfancied by most, Tonga recorded a thoroughly-deserved 19-14 win at Westpac Stadium over the eventual-finalists.
"It was an amazing victory," Lokotui said. "We knew if we hung on a little bit better than usual, then we could get them at the end. The perception of people was that we would go wild for the first 40 or 50 minutes, but we'd had a tough campaign and were ready for them."
Lokotui has helped stiffen up MSP's pack no end and with Fili pulling the strings at first five-eighth, they're a far more competitive force than a year ago. Second, after eight rounds of the Swindale Shield, MSP have a tough assignment today when they host third-placed Upper Hutt.
"This year has been a big turnaround for the boys. They're committed and determined to play well for themselves and hopefully go on to higher honours," Lokotui said.
"It's always good to play with someone like Fa'atonu. He's got loads of tricks up his sleeve and you've just got to be ready for the one he throws out."
Elsewhere, leaders Hutt Old Boys Marist host Oriental-Rongotai, Northern United meet Wainuiomata, Petone play Tawa, Old Boys-University and Poneke do battle at the Basin Reserve and Wests are at home to Rimutaka.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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