Southland Stags star rookie Halaholo to return

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014

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Stags rookie of the year Willis Halaholo will be back in maroon in 2014.

The Auckland-based midfielder has signed a one-year deal with Rugby Southland after showing plenty of potential in his debut season at national provincial championship level.

It's been a heady time for the 23-year-old, who was something of a child prodigy in Auckland high school rugby before - by his own admission - going off the rails when he left school.

When his weight ballooned out to 118kg, Halaholo began to doubt his long-held dream of following contemporaries like Frances Saili into professional rugby.

"It got hard, but as soon as I saw some of the boys playing on the TV and making the All Blacks and that, that were behind me in high school, when I saw them making those big teams, I wanted to give it a good go and get my family behind me."

Since being brought to Southland by last year's assistant coach Mark Ozich, Halaholo has completed a solid NPC apprenticeship and is on the radar of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises as an injury replacement.

"I've decided to take rugby seriously at the age of 23, so I'm a bit of a late bloomer," Halaholo said.

"It's always been a dream of mine. I went off the rails a bit after high school but I've matured a bit and I'm ready to give it a good go because it's the best way to secure a good future for me."

Halaholo hopes to continue developing a midfield partnership with Stags team-mate and Hurricanes rookie Cardiff Vaega.

"I guess both coming from Auckland, we both knew each other, we've played against each other. It was a matter of putting it together and it came right. I'm looking forward to working with him again," he said.

"It's normal for me to go out there and just give it 100 per cent and that's all I wanted to do. I learnt a lot in my first year at that level."

Halaholo, who hasn't met new coach Brad Mooar, said a change of coaching staff at the Stags was a little unsettling, but hadn't had a major bearing on his decision.

A hamstring strain first picked up in the Ranfurly Shield loss to Counties Manukau last season ruled Halaholo out of being involved in the Southland sevens programme but he plans to shift south soon to play a full club season in Southland.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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