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Swift delivery . . . Inoke Naufahu fires out a pass during the North Otago XV's game against Southland at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Inoke Naufahu is flying – and that is great news for the North Otago rugby team. The talented Old Boys halfback is braced for a big campaign in the Heartland Championship. He talks to Hayden Meikle

Inoke Naufahu is starting to tick off some major achievements in his life.

North Otago fans will be hoping the next one is a Meads Cup gold medal around his neck.

It shapes as a big campaign for the livewire halfback, whose sizzling club form with Old Boys seems ripe to translate into a bumper season in a gold jersey.

However, Naufahu (23), a quiet and thoughtful type, makes no bold predictions about what is to come from him for the rest of the year.

“I don’t really think too much about it,” he told the Oamaru Mail

“I just take things day by day.”

Shoulder and knee injuries, and the presence of rival Robbie Smith, have contributed to Naufahu playing a minor role in the Heartland Championship in recent years.

He’s now fit and firing, and Smith is unavailable, so the Citizens Shield’s leading scorer has a golden opportunity ahead of him.

“I was just focused on club rugby and work this year.

“I’ve ticked one box – I’m a qualified builder now – so I’m thinking about giving Heartland rugby a good go, and we’ll see what happens.”

Naufahu acknowledged the strangeness of watching the club final as a spectator.

Old Boys have dominated club rugby for a decade but dipped out after extra time against Valley in the semifinal.

“It was a good final to watch, but it was a weird feeling not to be there.

“After the final whistle in the semifinal, most of us were just speechless. We didn’t know how to feel.

“I never thought we were going to lose. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“But after a while, you get over it. That’s rugby.”

Naufahu grew up in Tonga and came to Oamaru when he got a scholarship to Waitaki Boys’ High School in 2012.

He loved his time at the school, after getting his head around the challenges of moving to New Zealand.

“Everything was a shock for a while. The food, the weather – and how the kids act in front of teachers.

“In the islands, no kids are allowed to run in front of the teacher, or yell in front of the teacher.

“To see the teachers here having to ask kids more than twice to be quiet was a shock. Man, go to Tonga and you will get a lesson how to shut up.”

A building career appealed and he was offered an apprenticeship by Breen Construction.

Life in an office was not for him, and Naufahu said he was loving the variety of the job and proud to qualify as a builder in June.

He had even managed to escape too much ribbing from his boss, Valley medic Jason Mavor.

The Tongan community has blossomed in Oamaru over the past decade, but Naufahu said other parts of his life were a focus for him.

“My perspective on my culture has changed a bit. I’m still Tongan, but I hardly go do things in that community any more. I’m busy in my own world, and focusing on work and rugby.

“In Tonga, we go to church every Sunday. But here, I can’t remember the last time I went to church.”

He has an uncle in Oamaru but the rest of his family are scattered around the globe.

Naufahu was actually born in Arizona before being taken to Tonga when he was 11 months to be raised by his grandparents.

His mother, father, brother and sister are still in the United States, and he has not seen them since 2009.

Naufahu’s next big goal is to get New Zealand residency, so he doesn’t have to go through the yearly ritual of applying for a visa.

“Then I’d like to build my own house one day and maybe stay in Oamaru and have a family,” he said.

“Rugby will always be a part of my life. I wouldn’t have got here without rugby.”