AWOL Taufu'i in Sri Lankan jungle
Former Manawatu midfield back Tevita Taufu'i is halfway through playing in the national competition in Sri Lanka.
Taufu'i, 24, vanished three weeks ago without speaking to anyone in his club or province, a day after playing for Kia Toa on Saturday, June 16.
He had been under close scrutiny to regain a Turbos ITM Cup contract, as Manawatu coach Jason O'Halloran confirmed.
"He would have been well in the framework."
Instead he flew to Sri Lanka to play for the Up Country Lions, a club in the hill town of Nawalapitiya in the centre of the island.
It is the club of the Minister of Sport, was launched only in January and is sponsored by a poultry company.
It's not clear whether Taufu'i has a clearance under International Rugby Board regulations to play there.
Kia Toa club captain Dave Adamson confirmed his club hadn't given a clearance, nor had the Manawatu Rugby Union and unless they had signed it off, the New Zealand Rugby Union wouldn't have done so either.
The club has 27 contracted players including two Tongan-born men, Taufu'i and Wests No8 Matthew Time from Wellington, the team captain.
Taufu'i was described in a Sri Lanka newspaper as having "played in the ITN Cup for Vanuatu".
A Nawalapitiya club spokesman was reported as having said "all the players are contracted and their release obtained from their former clubs, and where it is necessary they had made payment for their release".
Former Manawatu and NZ sevens wing Lote Raikabula recently played a game for the club and is hoping to go back soon to play.
"I spoke to Tevita two weeks ago and he is enjoying it," Raikabula said. "It is a lovely set-up up there in the jungle and for Tevita the weather is the same as back in the islands. He is staying in a hotel and getting a bit of cash."
Raikabula said the coach saw Taufu'i's profile when visiting New Zealand and claimed Taufu'i didn't know where he stood regarding the Turbos, so he took off. However, he was part of the Turbos' training twice a week and as O'Halloran said, "we selected him to play [for the Manawatu Evergreens] against Wanganui".
He was also given feedback through his club coach.
Taufu'i has about four games left in Sri Lanka but other midfielders in Manawatu clubs will come into the mix now.