Newcastle Rugby League: New Zealand-bred Ofa Manuofetoa prepares for maiden finals series with South Newcastle

IMPACT: South Newcastle outside back Ofa Manuofetoa, who arrived at the Lions this year after being signed by the Newcastle Knights from New Zealand with virtually no rugby league experience. Picture: Max Mason-HubersTwelve months ago Ofa Manuofetoa had only played three games of rugby league.

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Growing upin the small New Zealandcity of Timaru, located on the south island between Christchurch and Dunedin, rugby union was the obvious sport of choice.

Now the 18-year-old is on the verge of playinghis maiden Newcastle Rugby Leaguefinals series with defending premiers South Newcastle and it follows debuts earlier this season in both SG Ball and National Youth Competition as part of a two-year dealwith the Newcastle Knights.

“I wasn’t expecting to be here,”Manuofetoa said.

“Last year, looking into it, if this wasn’t coming up I was going to be back in New Zealand playinglocal rugby union footy and working I guess.”

And while the Kotara-based outside back still relishes in the success ofthe mighty All Blacks and his beloved Canterbury Crusaders, more recently the focus has been adapting to the code switch.

“It’s my first year of league coming in from union and the switch has been good,”Manuofetoa said.

“It’s been hard learning everything but I feel like I’m going forward with the game.”

Manuofetoa first caught the attention of South Newcastle coach Ben Cross after scoring five tries in two matches and “just manhandling blokes” playing under 19s for the club.

He got the call up to first grade and has never looked back since.

“I’ve been really happy with his performance for us this year,” Cross said.“He just wants to learn and helistens really well. He’s picking up all the little intricaciesof league and differences to union pretty quickly. And he’sjust an athlete as well, which helps.”

Manuofetoa started this season with Knights under 18s andthen went to South Newcastle under 19s before floating between Knights under 20s and eight first grade matches for the Lions, including the last two.

He said swapping between the various sides has been “beneficial” in his development and hopes it will be the launching pad for a career in the sport.

“Hopefully I can go forward from here and obviously the dream is to play first grade [NRL],”Manuofetoa said.

This week Manuofetoa and his teammateswill prepare to tackle Lakes in Saturday’s elimination semi-final away at Cahill Oval.

“The team is pretty pumped coming off a win last week, especially on Sleapy’s Day,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Lions’ opponents welcome back skipper Chris Adams from a one-week suspension for tripping but coach Dean Noonan said he was unsure who would drop out of his last round squad.

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