Leota's back and has unfinished business

HE MIGHT BE BACK: Johnny Leota (right) celebrates a try by Aseli Tikoirotuma.
HE MIGHT BE BACK: Johnny Leota (right) celebrates a try by Aseli Tikoirotuma.

Johnny Leota might be a mature 28-year-old but he has unfinished business, perhaps with the Manawatu Turbos, perhaps with Super Rugby and even internationally with Samoa.

The 62-game Manawatu midfield back is training twice a week with the Turbos after returning home following his first season with English premiership side the Sale Sharks, in Manchester.

In a week or two he flies back to Sale for the second season of his contract and will probably take up an extra year the club have offered him.

"That will give us more time to settle in there," he said. "The CEO has been really good to us."

After that he hinted he might like to finish his career with Manawatu.

"I'd love to play Super Rugby again. You're never too old."

Leota played for Samoa in tests leading up to the last year's World Cup and while he was part of the World Cup squad, he didn't get on the field. Most would be disenchanted after such an experience.

"I was a little disappointed but it was just good being a part of it. It was one of the highlights of my rugby career."

Ahead of him were Seilala Mapusua, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and George Pisi.

Leota made himself unavailable for the current Samoa test for family reasons but the Samoan Rugby Union has kept in touch.

"There is still the end-of-season tour. I will try and crack that," he said.

"I am still trying to go through to the next World Cup."

He is doing well with Sale who finished sixth in the English premiership. When he arrived he was on the bench, played half a game and after that had 18 games each of 80 minutes at centre.

Since then he has largely been a fixture at No13 outside former All Black Sam Tuitupou.

They were among 17 internationals in the squad. Others included Wales No8 Andy Powell and Welsh halfback Dwayne Peel, while Sale's young fullback, Rob Miller, was the top try-scorer in the premiership.

The controversial first five-eighth from the Melbourne Rebels, Danny Cipriani, has also signed with Sale.

The other Kiwis were North Harbour hooker Joe Ward and the Auckland pair of flanker Onosai Auva'a and five-eighth Tasesa Lavea who have returned to Auckland.

Also gone mid-season was New Zealand coach Tony Hanks, formerly coach of Waikato. He was sacked in March after Sale were whipped 45-9 by Saracens in front of a season-high home crowd of 9476 and has been replaced by former Gloucester coach Bryan Redpath.

Leota also sees a lot of former Manawatu lock James Goode who was with Newcastle Falcons who have been relegated.

That leaves Sale the only north-of-England club in the premiership and courtesy of their sixth placing, they graduate to the Heineken Cup competition this season.

Leoa likens Sale to a professional Super Rugby set-up. "They train pretty hard over there. They make us work for our money."

Which is why he has been hard out training in Palmerston North, even doing 1200-metre runs, which he hates.

He got to play Amslin Cup games in Spain and France and when the weather suited, he said Sale played a wide game.

"When the sun is out you play footie; when it's snowing and raining it is the 10-man game, crash-bash, a lot of kicking and chasing. There were only three weeks when I couldn't handle the cold."

He likes Sale. It is 10 minutes' drive from the city centre and is about the size of Feilding.

The club looks after travel and accommodation, the family live five minutes' drive from training and Sale have moved from Stockport, 20 minutes away, to a new stadium they share with the Salford rugby league team.

Manawatu Standard