Alofa Alofa used to admire Benji Marshall's footwork when he was an aspiring league player - and the rookie NSW Waratahs' wing made his own significant strides as the pair close in on their Super Rugby debuts.
The 22-year-old started Friday night's pre-season trial against the Blues as the game's unheralded league convert compared to Marshall and Israel Folau, but by the time he had dived over to score the final try at Allianz Stadium even diehard Waratahs' fans were asking media: "Who's that wearing 25?".
It was an Aucklander who had plans to wear the No 1 jersey on the same ground for the Sydney Roosters until Anthony Minichiello delayed his retirement - and another Kiwi, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, emerged as the NRL premiers' fullback-in-waiting.
Alofa, the son of Christian ministers who settled in Sydney when he was aged five, was a member of the Roosters' under-20s squad in 2011 and was predicted to break into first grade the following season.
Instead he was confined to training and trial matches - including one against Marshall's Wests Tigers two years ago - until it was obvious a return to rugby was his wisest career move.
"I tried and I didn't succeed," he said, matter-of-factly after starring in the Waratahs' 33-12 victory.
So he joined West Harbour in the Shute Shield competition and nailed 13 tries - a haul rewarded with a place on the NSW Barbarians tour to Argentina late last year.
Alofa also earned a one-year rookie contract - a deal that could be upgraded if his impact off the bench is replicated in the Waratahs' final trial against the Highlanders in Newcastle on Friday night.
He certainly made the right moves before head coach Michael Cheika who was more impressed with Alofa's lead-up work to his try than the actual finish.
Alofa kept an attacking thrust down the right flank alive with a miracle flick pass as he was tumbling across the sideline. In a flash he was upright and available two passes later when Bernard Foley looked for support.
"Cheika is wanting us to work really hard off the ball. If you pass the ball you can't just lay down and hope the boys will score," he said, downplaying his input.
That response pleased the coach, and selector.
"The effort he showed to score the try when he was down on his back only a couple of seconds before, that's what this team is trying to become," Cheika said.
"That shows he's obviously hungry and he wants an opportunity, He definitely gave himself a shot at it, that's for sure."
Alofa is competing for a wing berth with recent Wallaby Peter Betham, Cam Crawford and Matt Carraro while Adam Ashley-Cooper may also end up on a flank if Foley and Kurtley Beale are used as dual playmakers and Rob Horne occupies the centre berth.
Meanwhile, if he consigned to play a waiting game, Alofa can at least dwell on playing with, and against, some of the games biggest names.
"I used the watch Benji growing up, he had awesome feet. I just loved how he played," Alofa said, before praising his teammates.
"It was awesome getting to play alongside Izzy (Folau) and guys like Kurtley and Bernard Foley."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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