Raimona ready for new challenge in Taranaki

FRESH START: Former Stags prop Tuki Raimona in action for NZ at the IRB Junior World Champs in 2012.
FRESH START: Former Stags prop Tuki Raimona in action for NZ at the IRB Junior World Champs in 2012.

Former New Zealand under-20 prop Tuki Raimona has put a difficult 12 months behind him and is restarting his stalled rugby career in Taranaki.

The 22-year-old had been part of the Rugby Southland system since he was at Southland Boys’ High School and the union had hoped he would go on to figure in the Stags.

However, injury and off-field drama has limited his progress and he felt it was time for a fresh start.

He has been part of the Stags squad for three seasons, playing 10 games, all off the bench.

Last year, with frontline loosehead prop Jamie Mackintosh suspended, he looked set to get the break he was after when he was named to start against Manawatu.

However, an eye injury in training sidelined him.

It gave JP Koen the opportunity to start and by the end of the season Koen had leapfrogged Raimona in the pecking order.

In January Raimona had surgery for a pelvis problem before the off-field drama surfaced.

In February he forged a doctor’s signature and presented a prescription form at an Invercargill pharmacy for medication. He later admitted he was addicted to pain killers and sedatives and was sentenced to home detention.

Raimona made his return to rugby, playing for his Marist club in Southland against Midlands and Blues last month.

However, a phone call from former Taranaki halfback Brendan Haami, who coaches at the Stratford club, prompted Raimona to think about a fresh start and a new challenge.

He shifted to New Plymouth a couple of weeks ago and has already had two games with his new club.

His hope is to impress enough to come into the selection thinking during the Taranaki NPC season.

‘‘I had been thinking about it earlier in the year but I did want to stay in Southland because the people of Southland had looked after me. But I had been trying to find a job and I couldn’t find anything and then I got a phone call from Brendan Haami because he wanted to get me up here to play for his club, and it’s just gone from there,’’ Raimona said.

‘‘I wanted a new challenge and obviously coming to a place like New Plymouth where I hadn’t been before is that challenge. I want to push myself to my limits to see what I can do and can’t do. I want to get out of my comfort zone of obviously Invercargill and Southland because I’ve grown up there and it’s home, but I want to try do something else.’’

His former Stags team-mate, Marty McKenzie, is also now with Taranaki, while his former New Zealand under-20 team-mates, Rhys Marshall and Jamison Gibson-Park, are signed with the Taranaki union.

Other than that Raimona said he didn’t know anyone in New Plymouth before he made the move.

Raimona said he has already met with Taranaki Rugby Union boss Mike Collins and the union had sorted him with a gym membership.

Taranaki have signed Blues prop Angus Ta’avao, with Mitchell Graham, Sione Lea and Ryan Cocker the other props already signed for this season.

Raimona said his plan was to train as has hard as he could and do what he could to try and get his opportunity again at provincial level.

‘‘I just want to take it step by step. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I just want to see what happens. They’ve signed their props but if there are any injuries hopefully I could be looked at as injury cover.’’

The Southland Times