All Black Ma'a Nonu lends Samoa helping hand

UNWANTED: Ma'a Nonu is still looking for a franchise to play for next year.
Fairfax NZ
UNWANTED: Ma'a Nonu is still looking for a franchise to play for next year.

Ma'a Nonu's chequered history leaves him persona-non-grata with New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises but he made a fine first impression when New South Wales' State of Origin coaching staff observed the build-up to the All Blacks' Rugby Championship clash with the Springboks at Eden Park this month.

Laurie Daley and his assistant, Matt Parish, were granted access to all areas of the All Blacks' preparations for their eventual 29-15 victory on September 14, an eye-opening exercise designed to help the Blues loosen Queensland's stranglehold on rugby league's iconic interstate series.

Team meetings, video sessions, training, the dressing room - no aspect was off-limits as the Australian duo sought to transfer elements of the All Blacks' success to next year's NSW squad.

Parish was also taking notes on behalf of the Samoa Rugby League, who have entrusted the former Balmain centre with co-ordinating Samoa's tilt at the World Cup in the UK, Ireland and France.

Quarter-finalists in 2000, Samoa were ninth in the 10-nation tournament eight years later and although Parish will be able to assemble a squad equipped with test and first-grade veterans, watching the All Blacks at work - and play - was still a valuable exercise.

"We got a lot out of it. The way their senior players lead their team and drive their culture is unbelievable."

Despite Nonu's perceived inadequacies as a team player at the Hurricanes, Blues and Highlanders, Parish found the 82-test midfielder eager to help him take charge of a playing group consisting exclusively of Pacific Islanders.

"It's one of the challenges I face but obviously there's a lot of Pacific Islanders in the All Blacks and seeing how they manage it has given me a few ideas.

"I had a good conversation with Ma'a about what he likes to do and how he prepares. He's a leader in that group for the Polynesian boys."

From a NSW Origin perspective, a test week with the All Blacks highlighted how they cope with the demands associated with their status.

"Working with the All Blacks showed me how a little bit of extra attention on and off the field is the reason why they're so successful on it," Parish said.

"They cope with the expectation very well."

Parish hoped the cross-code and trans-Tasman connection would continue in 2014, saying coach Steve Hansen and his colleagues were welcome to scrutinise NSW's preparations to end Queensland's eight-year reign.

He also wanted to maintain contact with Nonu and joked there was a spot available in Samoa's World Cup squad, although the 31-year-old will likely be on All Black duty or overseas when the tournament starts late next month.

"He looks like he's played league the way he runs and defends. I'm sure he could adapt quite easily, actually," Parish said.

"I said maybe he'd get a start for us. He laughed."

Sunday News