Sa'u bruised but eager for more test footy

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 23/04/2013
Junior Sa'u
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STRONG ISLAND ROOTS: Junior Sa'u decided to play for Samoa so show thanks to his parents.

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Kiwis turned Samoa test centre Junior Sa'u is still feeling the effects of one confrontation with Pacific Island rivals Tonga - and now another looms in the shape of the New Zealand Warriors' blunt force instrument, Konrad Hurrell.

Sa'u's first confrontation with the Tongan-born and Kiwis-eligible line breaker never eventuated on Saturday night because Hurrell was not involved in the Pacific Islands test in Sydney - but there should be no avoiding some muscular collisions when NRL frontrunners Melbourne host the Warriors in their traditional Anzac Day clash at AAMI Park.

"Two nuggets going at it," was Sa'u's assessment as he contemplated a match-up where strength should outweigh subtlety.

"He's obviously a strong ball runner. I watched a lot of his games last year, he was just a wrecking ball.

"So, yeah, we have a similar sort of style."

Sa'u and Hurrell face similar challenges this season - the former Kiwi has to re-establish himself as a first grader after falling out of favour at the Newcastle Knights.

Hurrell, meanwhile, confronts the pitfalls of "second year syndrome" head-on as the 21-year-old strives to build on a debut season that, like the Warriors, lost momentum as it wore on.

Sa'u never really gained traction in 2012, Wayne Bennett's arrival at the club from St George Illawarra - and Timana Tahu's return to his spiritual home - culminated in the 26-year-old making only eight appearances in between exile to the NSW Cup.

It would be understandable if a player questioned their future - or worth - when disregarded by a coach of Bennett's reputation but Sa'u soon found himself in arguably the best fall back position; a Premiership-winning squad under Craig Bellamy.

"I had a couple of clubs to choose from and to go to the next level in my game, I knew I had to come here," said Sa'u, who never doubted his NRL days were numbered.

"It didn't go my way at the end at the Knights but I'm not down on it, footy goes on, life goes on."

Auckland-born Sa'u was ranked behind Justin O'Neill and Will Chambers after the pre-season trials but made his Storm debut in round three against the Bulldogs because O'Neill suffered a jaw injury in the previous round against North Queensland.

He has now played four consecutive games on the edge with Tongan wing Mahe Fonua, a PI double-act that is virtually a sideshow compared to the Storms' star-studded line-up.

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"Playing alongside (Cooper) Cronk and Billy (Slater) and Cameron (Smith), it's an honour for me," Sa'u confesses, before downplaying his own contribution to the reigning champions unbeaten start to the 2013.

"All I do is get the ball and run hard."

Sa'u, who is one a one-season deal, brings that same attribute to a Samoa side preparing for the World Cup in the UK, Ireland and France in late October.

He played his first test for Toa Samoa last weekend and hopes to extend that facet of his footballing career at a tournament where the Cup-holding Kiwis loom as the first obstacle in pool play.

Sa'u played eight tests for the Kiwis between 2009-10, including the successful Four Nations campaign in New Zealand and Australia, but has joined other former New Zealand internationals in pledging allegiance to Samoa after explaining his stance to Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney.

"I'm not only doing for myself, I'm doing it for my Mum (Marama) and Dad (Tafeaga). That's the country they were born and raised in," he said.

"It's a privilege and an honour for me to do that for them."

- Fairfax Media

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