Lima Sopoaga targets starting first-five duties

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013
Lima Sopoaga
HOPING TO START: Lima Sopoaga.

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Lima Sopoaga is hoping to make the same sort of impact on this year's Super Rugby competition as he and his siblings once made on their parent's food bill and the neighbours' windows.

The 22-year-old grew up in Wellington the oldest of six siblings, including four brothers.

"They keep me grounded, especially my two little sisters. It's always good to go home and see them," Sopoaga said.

Battles in the backyard were pretty ferocious. Younger brother Tupou has graduated to the NRL and went from the Canterbury Bulldogs to the Cronulla Sharks in the off-season.

Sopoaga said, that as the oldest, he usually came out the winner, including in a game which involved chipping golf balls over the boundary fence which put neighbourhood windows in harms way.

"I'd like to say that I took more victories than I did losses."

Sopoaga would like to say the same thing about this year's Super Rugby competition.

Injury has restricted him to just nine games in the past two seasons in Dunedin but, if last Friday's pre-season game in Oamaru is anything to go by, he looks ready to challenge Colin Slade for what has been a hexed Highlanders No 10 jersey.

Particularly eye-catching in the 38-21 win over the Crusaders was Sopoaga's combination with All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith.

"Aaron's just a quality No 9 and he's really established himself in that All Blacks setup. He's brought back so much experience," he said. "When your forwards are going forward like they were [in Oamaru] that makes my job a whole lot easier. Aaron is really vocal and we work really well together."

Sopoaga isn't scared by the prospect of taking Slade on for starting honours when the latter becomes available in week three.

"I think that's the beauty of it. Competition really brings out the best in players," he said.

"If you are a real competitor you look forward to the challenge.

"I want to have a good crack at that No 10 jersey and Jamie [Joseph] has a theory that if you play well, you get picked," he said.

"All I can do now is look to the 2013 season and not worry about what's happened in the past.

"I've put in the work and I'm champing at the bit to get into the season and get under way."

The Highlanders and their families have been enjoying a relaxed training camp in Wanaka this week before heading to Queenstown tomorrow for their final pre-season game against the Blues.

They begin their campaign against the Chiefs in Dunedin on February 22.

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- The Southland Times

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