Big Bubba 'stoked' to land Sharks spot

HIGH THERE: Former Manu Samoa rugby lock Bubba Lau'ese has made the switch to basketball after impressing at the Southland Sharks trials during the weekend and earning a spot on their roster.
JOHN HAWKINS/Southland Times
HIGH THERE: Former Manu Samoa rugby lock Bubba Lau'ese has made the switch to basketball after impressing at the Southland Sharks trials during the weekend and earning a spot on their roster.

With his imposing frame, affable personality and one of the coolest first names in sport, Bubba Lau'ese has all the attributes to become a cult hero for the Southland Sharks basketball side this season.

The six-foot-seven (2m) 126kg former Manu Samoa rugby lock was one of the more interesting prospects at the Sharks open trials at the weekend and did enough to impress head coach Richard Dickel and nab a spot on the roster.

Lau'ese, who attended Surrey Park Primary School in Invercargill in his younger days before moving to Auckland, has flirted with basketball at secondary school and club level, but is better known for his exploits on the rugby field.

He narrowly missed out on a place in Samoa's squad for the 2007 World Cup and has also played second division rugby in Wales and France.

Last year, Lau'ese was attracted back home to Invercargill by Rugby Southland and the Excelsior club. Some Southland rugby folk may remember Lau'ese by the name of Barry "Bubba" Papalii, with the big lock recently opting to change his surname back to his family name.

Bubba's future now firmly appears to be with basketball, though.

Lau'ese played on the same club basketball team as Sharks coach Dickel last year and the 26-year-old said he decided to give the trials a crack on Dickel's advice.

When he discovered he had earned a place on the Sharks roster, he admitted to being over the moon.

"I was stoked, I was really happy. I called up the missus and olds straight away," he laughed.

Lau'ese, who works as a probation officer at the Corrections Department, will be a real work in progress for the Sharks, but Dickel said he believed he had the potential to be very good in time.

"He's definitely a project. There's not many kids floating around New Zealand with his size and his athleticism.

"He's a big boy. Give him a year or so, and he could be producing."

Dickel said Lau'ese would be a handy addition to the Sharks' forward line with his strong rebounding skills, sheer size and ability to convert close to the basket.

The man, with size 15 feet, did not expect huge game time with the Sharks in their debut season in the league, with his focus more on development and getting up to speed with the huge jump to top-level basketball.

"I'd just be happy to get a couple of minutes," he said.

Lau'ese is close friends with Highlanders and Southland lock Joe Tuineau and said he hoped to be able to fit in a bit of club rugby later in the year when his Sharks commitments are over.

The Southland Times