Stag Halaholo turns frustration into devastation

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 01/09/2014
Willis Halaholo
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
STAR STAG: Stags second five-eighth Willis Halaholo was yet again one of Southland's best in their 33-22 loss to Otago at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday.

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Stags midfielder Willis Halaholo doesn't shy away when asked to describe the mood which surrounded his benching in round one of the 2014 provincial season.

After making the move from Auckland last year, Halaholo developed into one of Southland's standout players from the 2013 campaign.

He combined together well with another Auckland product in Cardiff Vaega in the Stags' midfield.

The 24-year-old returned south for a second season this year brimming with confidence, and ready to play his role in taking his partnership with Vaega, and the Stags, to another level.

He said he was stunned when he was advised he would start the season from the bench against Bay of Plenty in Invercargill.

Halaholo respected Stags coach Brad Mooar had his reasons for the decision to prefer Mark Jackman ahead of him in the midfield, but wasn't shying away from the fact he didn't like it.

"He wanted to start Jacko in the midfield for tactical reasons. I respect his decision, but I took it really hard to be honest. I wasn't really comfortable with it but I needed to get over it and do what I needed for the team."

That Halaholo certainly did.

During that round one game the Stags lost wing Qtulea Katoa to a shoulder injury which gave Halaholo his shot to join the game in the midfield with Jackman moving to the wing.

From that point Halaholo shoved the disappointment to one side and has fast returned to the role of the Stags' trump card.

Despite Southland losing 33-22 to Otago on Saturday, Halaholo was a shining light.

If you are person who laps up stats, Halaholo's two and a bit games to date makes very good reading.

He has made seven line breaks and beaten 18 defenders to make him Southland's most attacking threat.

The second five-eighth looks on a one way track to Super Rugby level, which would be a nice story considering where he has come from.

He was destined to drift into the rugby wilderness at one stage.

When Halaholo was selected as a year 12 pupil in the New Zealand secondary schools team - alongside the likes of Robbie Robinson and Elliott Dixon - he was being lined up for big things.

But it has taken until now for him to really make an impact.

"In my seventh form year I got injured and couldn't make the [New Zealand] secondary schools team again, it feel apart there. From there I started getting into trouble and bad habits with the drinking culture I was in. I did get into the Auckland system but I was taking the piss out of training, I wasn't fully committed. It has taken me three or four years to get back on the horse and to make my way to where I am now."

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Halaholo's younger brother Dillan has has a similar story.

The 20-year-old hooker made the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2011 but off-field problems looked set to also derail his career before he this year moved to have a crack in Southland.

"He follows the same story I have, so I pulled him down here to keep away from a few people back at home and give him the opportunity to have a crack."

- The Southland Times

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