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Japan bound . . . New Sunwolves signing Sione Asi always returns to Oamaru whenever he gets the chance. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

He was born in Tonga, went to school in Dunedin and plays rugby for Manawatu, but if anyone asks Sione Asi where he is from there is only one answer – Oamaru.

“It’s where all the legends are from. That’s what I always tell people,” the young tighthead prop said.

After playing provincial rugby for Manawatu for the past three years, Asi, who grew up in Oamaru, has signed with the Sunwolves in Japan for next season.

It is another step in the 21-year-old’s rugby career, having represented New Zealand at secondary school and under 20 level.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s a chance to get my name out there.

“[In rugby] everything can change quickly. Opportunities can come and go in the blink of an eye.

“Once you get to that top level, it’s almost a big business.”

Becoming a professional rugby player may seem like a dream for many, but it came with a lot of hard work, Asi said.

“Ninety percent of rugby is preparation. Game day is just the treat.

“I’ve had to make sacrifices, being away from my family, but that’s what my mum and dad did to get a better life.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the opportunity.”

Becoming an All Black is the ultimate goal, but there are two other teams that Asi would love to play for – Old Boys and North Otago.

His father and uncle, Hotili and Tevita Asi, played for the local sides in the 2000s, and provided Asi with some of his earliest, and fondest, rugby memories.

“That was back in the day when they had a bouncy castle and we used to play touch in the in goal.

“I still follow [North Otago] and watch their games when I can. That was the team I grew up supporting.”

Before then, though, he hopes to put Oamaru on the map and inspire the next generation of rugby players.

“There are lots of Polynesian kids here and I want to give them something to aspire to.

“There is so much talent here.”

He is looking forward to next year’s Super rugby season, especially playing against the Highlanders.

Another former Oamaru rugby player, Sione Misiloi, has been signed to the Otago side.

“If I could put a shot on one player, yeah, probably Sione,” he said with a laugh.

Being away from his family for most of the year could be tough, he said, so he relished his time in Oamaru.

“Coming back, I’m just another sibling. It’s grounding.

“It has changed a lot though.

“I used to know every Tongan in town, not now.”

And for Asi, it is all about the people.

If he was not a professional athlete, he said he would be a social worker.

In fact, he intended to study towards a social work qualification, but rugby had become his top priority.

“I have the mindset that I’m going to give rugby 100%.

“There is no plan B at the moment.”