Pacific rugby fraternity remembers Jonah Lomu
The Pacific rugby fraternity has been remembering All Black great Jonah Lomu, who passed away this week.
The Pacific rugby fraternity has been remembering All Black great Jonah Lomu.
Lomu, whose parents were Tongan, will be thought of as colossus on the rugby field but many of the memories from the Pacific community are of the impact he had off it.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
Lomu captured the world's attention with his blend of size and speed, often blazing his way through and around opponents during his 63 tests for the All Blacks. Former Tongan international Stan Afeaki says Lomu brought great pride to the Pacific kingdom and inspired youth both in Tonga and New Zealand.
STAN AFEAKI: It was almost like a superman on the rugby field and being Polynesian, being Tongan especially, it just gave us that representation on the field and most Tongan kids were pretty proud to have such a figure running around on the field and not only just doing good but demolishing other teams. You know, knight in shining armour, bullet-proof.
Former Manu Samoa hooker Tala Leiasamaivao, who played in the 1995 world cup which brought Lomu to the fore, agrees he gave Pacific youth struggling in New Zealand something to aim for.
TALA LEIASAMAIVAO: He grew up on the streets of South Auckland and then to become such a central figure in the All Blacks and then to go on to become one of the greats. It was something that as Pacific youth they would be able to look to. It gave a real tangible example really of a role model. He was close to them. He looked like them. He was one of them, well one of us really, so they were able to say if he can do it, I can do it.
Despite Leiasamaivao playing for rival Samoan and Wellington teams of the time, he remembers Lomu fondly.
TALA LEIASAMAIVAO: He was iconic. An exceptional role model really for the Pacific community as a whole. Not only for Tongans, but for us as Samoans. I think for us as Pacific islanders we sort of cheered each other on and we were like cousins. Really a family community really when it came to Tongans and Samoans playing on the world stage.
Lomu even made an impact in Pacific countries where rugby is a minor sport such as Solomon Islands. Their rugby president is Frank Wickham.
FRANK WICKHAM: Many young people wanted to play like Jonah Lomu throughout the Pacific. I know in the big playing nations but here in the smaller slowly developing countries like Solomon Islands, such people inspire our young people and we are very very sad to hear of his loss.
The Chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council in New Zealand, Melino Maka, says Lomu's arrival brought the community out of a dark period.
MELINO MAKA: I think it's very important that he burst onto the scene back in the 90s, (it) is a break of the stereotype that we have been tainted with during the dawn raids that related to the over-stayers. If you think back Lomu, his parents came through that era, so what they actually did is to break that stereotype.
Maka says he changed people's mindsets about the Pacific in other ways.
MELINO MAKA: A lot of people started consuming taro and they wanted to be like Jonah Lomu, so I think he really put Tonga on the map, put the Pacific on the map in terms of that and some of the cultural stuff that may not be quite familiar to New Zealand European, he actually introduced that and become a norm.
The Tongan government will discuss marking Lomu's death at a cabinet meeting on Friday. Sports Minister Fe'ao Vakata says the kingdom should mark the death of such a significant Tongan figure.
FE'AO VAKATA: Even people here in Tonga have named their children after Jonah Lomu and everybody has been saying they are related to Jonah Lomu. That's how much we are proud and appreciated what he had given Tonga and New Zealand and world rugby.
Meanwhile Melino Maka says he will meet with Lomu's church leaders in Auckland to discuss how best to mark his death there.
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