18 Sep 2020

Tongan rugby hero back in 'the bay'

8:40 am on 18 September 2020

After eight years packing down scrums in France, Sona Taumalolo has returned to Hawke's Bay to compete in this year's Mitre 10 Cup.

Sona Taumalolo is back with Hawkes Bay after nine years away.

Sona Taumalolo is back with Hawkes Bay after nine years away. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Tongan cult hero won 61 caps for the Magpies between 2005 and 2011 and is looking forward to donning the black and white hoops once again.

"It feels great to be back here. This is where I belong, where I start all my career from and for me coming back it's kind of exciting and I'm happy to be back."

The former 'Ikale Tahi international departed New Zealand after winning a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs in 2012, with the dynamic front rower collecting an impressive nine tries during their championship campaign.

Sona Taumalolo last played for Tonga at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Sona Taumalolo last played for Tonga at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: AFP

He played the last of his 20 tests for Tonga at the 2015 World Cup and anchored the scrum for Perpignan, Racing Metro and Grenoble in the French Top 14 but admits, with three young children, he and wife Di found it tough being so far from home.

"There was times it was hard away from here [with] no family to help us out," he said. "My wife and I we feel up and down with a few clubs we'd been there but we managed to hang in there for eight years."

Grenoble prop Sona Taumalolo sizes up the Clermont defence.

Sona Taumalolo during his time with Grenoble. Photo: AFP

Taumalolo will turn 39 in November and briefly retired from the game because of spinal problems but insisted that he hadn't given too much thought to a life after rugby.

"I still feel good," he said.

"I I feel great - a little injury here and there but nah I feel good. At my age to still run around and feel grateful to run around at this age and still do what I love to do."

The Magpies had a forgettable start to the new season, suffering a shock 16-10 defeat away to Southland in Invercargill last weekend.

Taumaolo didn't feature in that match but, as the elder statesman in the squad, he said was trying to lead in his own unique way.

"Most boys here they used to watch me when I was here and they were very young," he laughed.

"I used to knew some of them - they just would be nine back then - and for me to come back and play with them I want to still lead an example for me in a good way and give my experience back to them. That's the ones that are going to carry on the future of the [team]."

After settling back into the sunny Hawke's Bay, Sona Taumalolo said the future for his family was definitely set.