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Off field . . . Kelepi Funaki is finishing off a drainlaying apprenticeship for Laser Plumbing. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

He is the 80-minute man.

Emerging as one of North Otago’s key players this season, prop Kelepi Funaki (23) played almost all of the available minutes for the Old Golds.

In an age where props are routinely benched at the 50-minute mark, Funaki, who plays both sides of the scrum, is a throwback to a time when a substitution was a rarity, not a formality.

The key to Funaki’s standout performance this season was enjoying the challenge of testing himself, especially in the Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury. At one point during that game, Funaki made three carries within the space of about 20 seconds, bumping off some top quality defenders.

“Canterbury was hard. They have a good scrum and defence,” Funaki said.

“I just enjoy running with the ball.

“I didn’t even know who was in front of me .. I was just standing there saying

The Oamaru Old Boys player said he enjoyed the representative season, even though it was shortened.

“We had a whole new team but we stepped up,” he said.

Funaki moved to Oamaru in 2014, from Kolofo’ou, in Nukualofa, Tonga, for a three-year scholarship at St Kevin’s College.

It was an exciting move and he enjoyed his time at the school, but said the language barrier presented some difficulties at the start.

He still visits his family in Tonga each year.

After finishing school, he started a drainlaying apprenticeship with Laser Plumbing Oamaru, which he has almost completed.

He said his goal in rugby was to keep testing himself and he would like to push for a spot in a Mitre 10 Cup side.

North Otago coach Jason Forrest said Funaki was only going to continue to improve.

“For a big guy, his work rate is really good. He is always looking to get his hands on the ball,” Forrest said.

“I’m pretty sure he put in 80 minutes just about every game … it was just one of those things you know he is going to do.”

Funaki was one of the players who had stepped up and led by example in an inexperienced North Otago side this year, Forrest said.

“He was a leader, but he probably didn’t realise he was,” he said.

“Other guys fed off that. He is a man of few words, but when he carried, he carried hard, when he tackled, he tackled hard – he was always trying to get himself back in the game.”