Loco's move south looks like the right decision
With impressive names like Frank Halai, Tim Nanai-Williams and Sherwin Stowers queuing up in front of him at Counties, Lolohea Loco went looking elsewhere for a provincial opportunity.
Twenty-five-year-old Loco was part of the Counties squad last year and managed to get a start on the right wing against Canterbury late in the season, but his time was mainly spent in the province's development team.
Coach Tana Umaga is understood to have liked the look of Loco, but he has an embarrassment of riches in the outside backs department at the Steelers.
The former All Black captain advised the winger he might try his luck somewhere else to ensure he had the best chance of getting game time.
Loco made the move south this year to Southland, hoping the Stags can be the ticket to a regular starting spot in provincial rugby.
He has been a key figure in helping his new club Star win their first five games in Southland's premier club rugby competition this season and he looks to be a frontrunner to fill one of the wing spots in this season's Stags squad.
"It was pretty hard getting a crack at Counties with the likes of Sherwin and Frank Halai, so I looked for an agent and he got me to come down and have a try," Loco said.
While Loco wasn't able to get a lot of game time in Counties he said being around the Ranfurly Shield-winning team and learning off the likes of Umaga and senior players had been a big help in his development.
"I learned a lot from them, especially from the likes of Sherwin Stowers, they helped a lot at training."
Loco moved to New Zealand from Fiji in 2007 on a scholarship and joined up with the Rotorua Boys' High School first XV.
After his time at Rotorua he moved to Auckland, and played club rugby for the Teachers Eastern club.
In 2010 he was picked up by Heartland team King Country as a loan player and started in all 11 games either on the wing or at fullback. He was King Country's leading try scorer that season with eight tries, which included a hat-trick against Buller.
From there Loco headed to Counties, where he spent three seasons playing for the Admore Marist club and the Counties development team while mainly training with the Counties senior squad.
The move south had been a good one to date, he said. "I'm pretty happy with the way things are panning out at the moment, especially with the club footy."
Loco's next assignment for Star will be a trip to Winton to take on Midlands.
If Star can win that game they will have an unbeaten record through the first round of the competition.
The crunch game in Southland's premier club rugby competition on Saturday is the Pirates-Old Boys versus Eastern Northern Barbarians matchup at Surrey Park.
The two teams sit fourth equal on 16 points with a two-win, three-loss record this season.
In the other premier game, Blues and Marist will meet at the Les George Oval, while Woodlands will make the trip north to take on division one team Te Anau.
- The Southland Times