Highlanders' Lima Sopoaga hoping luck turns

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2014
Lima Sopoaga
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
ON THE BURST: Lima Sopoaga makes a break for Wellington.

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Odds are high Highlanders first five Lima Sopoaga won't be treating himself to an extra slice of cake when he blows out the candles for his 23rd birthday on Monday.

"There will probably be a few of [coach] Jamie Joseph's favourites - a few down ups, I suppose. There's no celebrating birthdays around here, I'll just stick to the salad, I think," he joked.

If anyone deserves a bit of luck to run their way in 2014 it is Lima Zachariah Sopoaga.

The Wellington playmaker has managed only 16 games in three seasons for the Highlanders after a series of injuries including eight weeks with his right shoulder, six months with a fractured left shoulder and 10 weeks with a high ankle strain.

"It's been a bit of a rubbish run, to be honest, and hopefully this year I get a bit of luck on my side and get a full season. Injuries are just part of the game and I've been unlucky," he said.

"It's been bloody hard work coming back from injuries, but you just can't give up. You have to do everything that the medical team tell you to do and try and stay as positive as possible. You obviously have your down days, you think 'why me?', but you've just got to keep going."

In those rare appearances he has managed for the Highlanders, and more regularly with the Lions in the NPC, Sopoaga has provided glimpses of the potential he possesses.

Blessed with good hands and feet, he has been working hard on his kicking game with new Highlanders assistant Tony Brown and will go into the season scrapping for the No 10 jersey with Hayden Parker and Willie Ripia.

The oldest of six siblings, younger brother Tupou Sopoaga is heading into his second season with the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL.

A cousin, Tinirau Arona, transferred from the Roosters to the Sharks in the offseason.

Sopoaga played representative league for Wellington at under-16 level and trialled with Newcastle when he was 16, but nothing came of it.

He has spent time with his brother sampling the Cronulla beaches but hasn't seen him play live, although he's hoping to get to the Auckland Nines to see Tupou turn out for the Sharks there.

In the meantime, he'll see game time off the bench against the Brumbies in a pre-season game in Queenstown tomorrow night.

Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph knows how good Sopoaga could be.

"He's had a bad run, and it's usually been on the end of some really good form. He's in good nick, he's physically and mentally keen so he just needs to get out there and start playing and start building some form over the pre-season," Joseph said.

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"I've coached Lima for years now. He came through with me from the Wellington academy, I selected him in the Lions and then I brought him down south to the Highlanders. He's looking for a big year. Players the same age, like [Beauden] Barrett and [Aaron] Cruden have really developed into classy All Blacks, so Lima will have that in the back of his mind and we are hoping for a big season from him."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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