Halai just 'doing his thing'

Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:43
Large frank halai boxes Large john kirwan blues 630 Large frank halai nz 7s Large john kirwan at eden par630k Large frank halai blues celebrate

Frank Halai is not a player you would associate with a 'slow start'. However, the Tongan flyer is now making great strides.

Frank Halai is not a player you would associate with a 'slow start'. However, the Tongan flyer, who started out as a lock before moving to wing, is now making great strides.

He first plied his trade at provincial level for Counties-Manukau and Waikato, and then raised some eyebrows when he joined the New Zealand Sevens side for two years.

The 24-year-old Halai has only just made his Super Rugby debut - the 34-20 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington last week.

"I liked playing for Titch [NZ Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens], but I have looked forward to this level of rugby," Halai said.

Halai certainly looked at home at Super Rugby level last week, as he scored two tries on debut in a fine individual performance against the Hurricanes.

In fact it was Halai who produced the match-turning moment.

Desperately racing back to his goal-line to deny Julian Savea a try, Halai was sin-binned for deliberately batting the ball into the in-goal, received a yellow card for his trouble and conceded a penalty try.

It could have spelled the beginning of end for the Blues as they went behind on the scoreboard and down a man, but Halai fought desperately upon his return to the pitch to score the match-defining try.

"I came back, worked harder and really tried to make it up to the team," Halai said.

It's that determination to work hard and keep getting better that has seen the best emerge in Halai.

He's added muscle to his already large frame, reduced his skin folds, scored a personal best in his fitness tests and is clocking the same times over 10 metre sprints that he was when he was much lighter.

Having a world class wing in Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has also helped with Halai's development.

"JK just told me to go out there and do my thing, carry the ball hard, keep the work rate up and keep playing hard."

However, as much as Kirwan has helped tutor him in the intricacies of wing play, Halai conceded the new Blues coach was never someone he followed as a child.

Indeed the 1.95m, 105kg Halai who grew up in a small village in Tonga was not really interested in Rugby Union until he moved to Wesley College in the fifth form, the school of another Tongan powerhouse in wing Jonah Lomu.

Halai grew up following Rugby League and used his natural ability to dominate the athletics circuit.

He won Counties-Manukau titles at highjump, longjump and triplejump and was supposed to compete for New Zealand at a competition meet in Australia.

But Halai decided to miss the trip across the Tasman and athletics took a back seat as Rugby Union began to play a more prominent role in his life, where his height, jumping ability and athleticism saw him shoulder tapped for lock.

"In my first game they put me at lock first and I didn't know what to do there. I couldn't catch the ball at the line-out so they put me on the wing and from there on I just played wing," Halai said.

The shift out wide clearly paid dividends as he went from strength to strength, using his deceptive shift of pace and large frame to either beat players on the outside or simply run over the top of them.

It was when Kirwan watched Halai playing for the New Zealand Sevens side that he saw something special in him.

"I spoke to Gordon Tietjens and he's one of the guys I speak to often about outside backs, particularly guys that have gone through his regime," Kirwan said.

"He said: 'Frank is the Tongan with the biggest motor I've ever seen', so that's just Titch's way of saying this guy can run.

"So that gave me the initial interest and I started watching him and saw his attacking potential and size and thought he would be perfect for us."

So far Halai has lived up to that expectation, but he knows it was just one game and he's got to keep working hard to improve.

"It's a great environment here and it was special to be a part of the win last week but we've got to keep working harder. We've got a team saying ‘better never stops' so we need to keep working ahead of the game against the Crusaders."

Source: Blues media unit

There are currently no matches being played
FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 04 September 2015
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs 17h10 Loftus Versfeld
Sat, 05 September 2015
Sharks v Pumas 13h00 Kings Park, Durban
England v Ireland 13h30 London
Western Province v Griquas 15h05 Newlands
Wales v Italy 17h00 Cardiff
Golden Lions v EP Kings 17h10 Ellis Park
France v Scotland 19h00 Paris
Sun, 06 September 2015
United States v Australia 00h30 Chicago
SUPER RUGBY
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
Hurricanes 16 14 0 2 66
Waratahs 16 11 0 5 52
Stormers 16 10 1 5 45
Highlanders 16 11 0 5 53
Chiefs 16 10 0 6 48
Brumbies 16 9 0 7 47
Crusaders 16 9 0 7 46
Lions 16 9 1 6 42
Bulls 16 7 0 9 38
Rebels 16 7 0 9 36
Sharks 16 7 0 9 34
Cheetahs 16 5 0 11 26
Reds 16 4 0 12 22
Blues 16 3 0 13 20
Force 16 3 0 13 19