Solomona Sakalia is not a name well known to Chiefs fans but after the way Ben Tameifuna emerged in the last Super Rugby season he should be one to follow.
Just as Chiefs forwards coach Tom Coventry groomed Tameifuna from an early age in Hawke's Bay to develop into a young tighthead powerhouse, Coventry has also been keeping a close eye on rising loosehead star Sakalia in Wellington.
A year older than Tameifuna at 22, Sakalia played for Wellington club champion side Marist St Pat's last season and also made his national provincial championship debut for Wellington.
That came hard on the heels of being part of the champion New Zealand under-20 side in 2011, which had attracted Coventry's interest.
"I was keeping in regular correspondence with Tom Coventry and he was giving me a few tips throughout the ITM and told me that they were interested in me and what he thought my work-ons should be," Sakalia said.
"I just tried to take that advice on board. He knew Ben from Hawke's Bay and knew I'd played with Ben."
Coventry has certainly shown his preference for young forward talent and has not been afraid to recruit youthful props, going against the traditional thinking that front-rowers mature a lot later.
"There's heaps of young props coming through. In this squad alone we've got me and Mike Kainga, who are both 22, and Ben Tameifuna  as well.
"Ben made the most of his opportunities last year, I suppose, and seeing the way he played definitely made it look achievable."
Sakalia, already a solid 118 kilograms on a 1.90-metre frame, has revelled in his introduction to Super Rugby via the Chiefs' pre-season.
"I've been loving it. It's been tough and now the boys are all happy to be playing pre-season games and getting into the actual season, because we've been having some pretty hard trainings and it is just good to actually play some footy."
He has not had too much trouble fitting into an established championship-winning team, having come through national age group teams with the likes of Tameifuna, Kainga, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane.
"It's a good mix of young and old heads and I've enjoyed a good learning environment. There is a lot of emphasis on the minor details," Sakalia said.
He played the last five minutes of the opening trial against the Highlanders, but missed the second trial against the Reds and hasn't been named to play today against the Hurricanes at Mangatainoka.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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