American sojourn for Makos loosie
Tevita Koloamatangi is taking his rugby education Stateside next month, when he heads to San Francisco for a six-month playing stint with the Golden Gate RFC.
Rugby won't be the main focus, though. Koloamatangi and wife Belinda are heading to California early next month on a half-year holiday, primarily to achieve their desire to travel overseas.
While Koloamatangi will link up with the Golden Gate club, whose top side competes in the Northern California Rugby Football Union's Division 1 and newly formed Elite Cup competition, he won't be playing for money.
He'll be playing mainly as a means of maintaining his fitness ahead of next year's provincial rugby season.
The 24-year-old 1.89m and 102kg loose forward was one of the finds of the Tasman Makos' 2012 ITM Cup season, appearing in 10 of the 11 games and establishing himself in the No 6 jersey by the end of the campaign.
He's now had 14 games for the union over three seasons, and despite a demanding national provincial series, including a championship semifinal, he is looking forward to a whole new rugby experience.
"It was a personal decision for me and my wife, because we haven't really done much travelling and it was a good time to travel," he said.
"We want to settle down at some stage, so we thought this was a good time to go and see the world [before we] come back and start a family."
Despite playing in a position renowned for its high attrition rate, Koloamatangi produced some dynamic efforts off the side of Tasman's scrum.
And with leading loose forward Liam Squire missing the entire representative season through injury, the young Stoke club loosie received plenty of meaningful game time.
"It was awesome. I think it was the best season I've ever had out of the three, probably because of the game time, and I just felt more confident in my position as loose forward and more confident at that level of rugby, really.
"The people around me, the management, I've been around them for three years, so you get used to them . . . and the players. It was a pretty cool environment to be in.
"It was either take [my chances] now or never, really, so I had to really step up to the plate this time."
He said his body had recovered well after such a demanding campaign and he would be well rested ahead of the Golden Gate club's official competition start in January.
"[The ITM Cup season] was really demanding, but the body sort of gets used to it with recovery. [Tasman trainer] Simon Thomas has done a really good job with getting us into recovery after each game and making sure we're recovering well."
Of Tongan heritage, Auckland-born Koloamatangi has a much bigger goal in his sights - representing Tonga at the next Rugby World Cup.
"That's what I'm striving for at the moment, so I'll just keep chugging away and keep training hard, and hopefully opportunities open and things happen for me."
He has already signed with Tasman for the 2013 season, and said he believed that being in a smaller union like Tasman would not affect his chances of potentially being noticed by Tongan selectors.
"Already opportunities have opened up, first of all making the Tasman team. There's quite a lot of exposure nationally, so I don't think we're limited by anything really here. I think I can reach my goals by being here."
For now, though, California's dead in his sights.
"I just want to play a bit of rugby and travel around different parts of the country and have a new experience, and hopefully be better for it when I come back.
"I've talked to lots of people and they've said it's a beautiful place, and I'm excited."