Tagavaitau in a new league with Turbos
When new Manawatu Turbos centre Jaxon Tagavaitau played his first game of rugby for Linton Army this year, he kept dashing back 10 metres from every ruck.
Hardly surprising considering Tagavaitau has played rugby league most of his life.
His Linton team-mates soon put him right and now he is a fully-contracted Turbo, learning to tackle hard and low rather than higher as in league.
Physically he said the games were the same, but there are differences in attacking and defending.
"League is easier than rugby because you've got more time to think."
Manawatu coach Jason O'Halloran spotted the big lad playing rugby in an inter-corps 10s tournament at Linton in February, had a chat to him and suggested it might be worth his while trying rugby.
"Back in the day I hated rugby and loved playing league," he said.
Even at Edgewater College in Pakuranga, east Auckland, he only reached the 2nd XV, as a flanker and a late bloomer, as he describes it. He started with the Pakuranga Jaguars Rugby League Club before moving to the Otara Scorpions where a team-mate was Manu Vatuvei, now the Warriors' hero.
"He was a star then and used to score four or five tries a game. He was like a grown man playing with kids, under 13s and 14s."
At Edgewater College, Tagavaitau met his future wife, Mata.
"I picked up the courage to ask her out," he laughed.
They kept their relationship to themselves, as they did when they enlisted in the army in 2005 and went to Waiouru for three months of training.
"That was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, moving away from home," he said. "But joining up was the best choice I ever made."
He and Mata were posted to Trentham Camp for two years, she to train as a diesel mechanic and he as a supply technician. By then the army knew they were an item and transferred them to Linton Camp in 2007.
They now have a baby due in January. She is a sergeant but because he switched to the engineers it cost him rank; he is a sapper, a qualified builder.
At Linton he played league for the Cobras and was always one of the standout players.
He went to the Defence World Cup at Penrith, Sydney, when New Zealand lost to the Aussies in the semifinals.
Tagavaitau represented the Manawatu Mustangs and then the Central Vipers. But because there were players from Manawatu, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki, the only time they got together was before a game.
Back then he was Jaxon Samoa, the adopted name of his grandfather. A Niuean, he changed it to his family name, Tagavaitau.
His size, 105kg on a 1.87m frame, appealed to O'Halloran.
"I've been 100kg since intermediate school," Tagavaitau said. "I want to get back close to that."
He said the army had been supportive about him signing for Manawatu and it's an opportunity he wouldn't have had in rugby league.
"I'll give this one a good shot."
The Turbos were relieved to hear that all of Highlanders prop Ma'afu Fia's neurological tests had been negative after he collapsed at training three weeks ago. He returns to Palmerston North tomorrow, as does Nick Crosswell from the Chiefs.
Chiefs lock Michael FitzGerald's finger operation is on Thursday.