Sione Misiloi always dreamed of coming back to his hometown as a Highlander.
That dream came true last week, as the Highlanders were in Oamaru for the team’s first open training session of the year, followed by skills and drills with the community.
Misiloi, a former St Kevin’s College pupil, was in the thick of it at training, before being bombarded by members of the community wanting to catch up with him and sign autographs.
The Highlanders loose forward said it was an amazing experience to return to his hometown, and bring the team in tow.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Misiloi said.
“I went to school here. This is what I always wanted when I was young.
“I loved this town – it’s really special to come back.”
Misiloi made his debut for Otago in 2018, and he was rewarded for his good form in the Mitre 10 Cup with his first contract with the Highlanders for the 2020 season, the fulfilment of a long-held ambition for the Tongan born player.
Misiloi has always maintained a strong connection with Oamaru, often returning to visit his family.
Nearly 300 children, some who travelled from as far as Temuka, were taught passing drills, and played various games and challenges with the Highlanders players and coaching staff at the Oamaru “fun day” last Friday.
“It’s good that the boys and the Highlanders are doing this. These kids are the future – they will be in the Highlanders jersey one day,” Misiloi said.
North Otago Rugby development officer Jason Forrest said it was a fantastic opportunity for the community to have the Super Rugby Aotearoa team come to town.
“It’s awesome for a small town. It’s great community engagement – we don’t get it very often. It’s just been an awesome event,” Forrest said.
The event was sponsored by Milligans Food Group, which dished out free ice creams for children on the day. The Oamaru company is sponsoring the Highlanders for the next two seasons.