An eight-month stint playing rugby in Italy might have been the best decision Genesis Mamea ever made.
He helped San Dona win promotion to the Italian Super 10, became a father, played out of his skin for Wainuiomata on return, and is now Wellington's first choice No 8.
The 24-year-old will gallop out against Otago tonight, the first time he's had back-to-back starts since his run-on debut against Southland in round three.
Mamea's world was turned upside down last year when, two weeks into his Italian sojourn, his partner, Nesa, called to say he was going to be a father. “I was like ‘eh'? It was tough,” he recalled.
In April his club granted him leave to return to Wellington to greet daughter Aaliyah into the world, then he returned to help San Dona - near Treviso - win their division.
His Italian remains poor, but Mamea loved the experience. “It's a different world . . I learned a lot, playing-wise, and a lot about life.”
He described Aaliyah's birth as “the best thing ever” and has her name tattooed on his left arm. On his right arm, in big letters, is the Mamea family name that club rugby followers will know well.
He and his cousins, Fa'atau and Isaiah, caused havoc on the field for Wainui after his return from Italy.
And there could be at least five Mameas playing in green and black soon, with his twin brothers, Anthony and Andrew, both props for St Bernard's College, and Hurricanes under-18 triallists.
“We've talked about it and it's a goal of ours to play together.”
For now, Mamea is marvelling at the deeds of another prodigy, Ardie Savea. The teenager cemented his spot as Wellington's No 7 and the pair will be unleashed on Forsyth Barr Stadium as the Lions seek maximum points to stay in contention for a home semifinal.
“It's good being out there with Ardie and we feed off each other."
Mamea adds another dimension to the Lions' game, says coach Chris Boyd, who implores him to carry the ball often and be brutal on defence. With Brad Shields injured and Victor Vito with the All Blacks, this is Mamea's chance to impress Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.
“That's the goal. I've still got to sharpen up bits of my game but I'm definitely knocking on the door . . . just try and play my game and definitely turn heads.”
Wellington held a one-point lead heading into the penultimate round. A top-four including Canterbury, Auckland and Taranaki is assured, but the order is up for grabs. Meanwhile, Boyd has recalled hooker Dane Coles and midfielder Shaun Treeby from bench rest and welcomed back prop Reggie Goodes from a fractured eye socket. The coach was heartened by the fact the Lions still lead the competition without really clicking.
“We've been patchy pretty much all the way through. But I guess it's better to be patchy and winning.
"We're conscious of the fact we haven't put a complete performance on the board yet - we haven't been consistent so we're hoping to rectify that in the next two weeks,” Boyd said.
The Tony Brown-coached Otago are a clear second in the championship after Tuesday's 51-35 win over Manawatu, their fifth of the season. But they lost No 8 and captain Paul Grant to a season-ending shoulder injury.
In the other games today Manawatu are at home to Hawke's Bay and Counties-Manakau host Waikato.
Tomorrow Southland and North Harbour are at home to Taranaki and Auckland, respectively.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Wellington: Charlie Ngatai, Alapati Leiua, Tim Bateman, Shaun Treeby, Jason Woodward, Lima Sopoaga, Frae Wilson, Genesis Mamea, Ardie Savea, Ross Filipo, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Eric Sione, Arden David-Perrot, Kaipati Gaualofa, Kayne Hammington, Matt Proctor, Scott Fuglistaller.
Otago: Tony Ensor, Marshall Suckling, Jayden Spence, Glenn Dickson, Buxton Popoali'i, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Gareth Evans, Hugh Blake, Lee Allen, Rob Verbakel, Tom Franklin, Hisa Sasagi, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli. Reserves: Shota Horie, Jacob Ellison, Justin Ives, TJ Ioane, Brad Weber, Peter Breen, Adam Hill.
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Keith Brown
TV: Sky Sport 1: 7.35 tonight
TAB odds: Otago $2.80 Wellington $1.40
- The Dominion Post