Fa'afili looks to follow by example

The winger is new Leeds Carnegie recruit and the ex-Wolves player hopes to emulate All Blacks Lomu and Rockoko by doing well at the top.

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The suburbs of Manukau City in New Zealand have become notorious over the years for their high level of crime and deprivation. But there is hope in that the area - described as disadvantaged and populated by many of Polynesian and Maori descent - has produced numerous rugby players.

Jonah Lomu and Joe Rockoko need little introduction, but the new Leeds Carnegie recruit Henry Fa'afili is hoping he can join the All Blacks pair as a local hero. Although born in Samoa, his family moved to the Manurewa area when he was three. "At the time I was growing up, it wasn't so bad, but it's now quite rough," said Fa'afili, the former Warrington Wolves player - a winger like Lomu. "It's not easy growing up in that kind of environment, but rugby helped keep me out of trouble.

"I used to get together with the guys around the streets and play until we couldn't see the ball. Now that he is popular, Fa'afili often gets asked to do presentations for the players in the city, and they appreciate it. "I'd like to think I can be a role model. Jonah and Joe came from the same area and background too so it shows what can happen if you want something so badly," he said. "Jonah was a bit older than me and I always played league as a kid, but when he came on the scene he was electric. The whole of New Zealand was following him. He is one of the greatest finishers in rugby, but when you see him as a bloke and how humble he is, he's even more inspirational."

Another inspiration is Jason Robinson, who became a legend in both Rugby League and Rugby Union. Having finally got his visa clearance to play for Leeds, Fa'afili will soon become the latest dual code player in the Guinness Premiership after a three-year spell at Warrington where he finished as Super League's top try scorer in 2007. He left them for the French top 14 side Biarritz, where learning a new language and new skills made it a tough two years for him.

But Fa'afili will call on his Leeds teammate Henry Paul, who faces his former club Gloucester in Sunday's match, and Bath's Shontayne Hape, a former New Zealand Warriors colleague, to help his development. Fa'afili, who represented Samoa in this summer's Pacific Nations Cup, added: "It lifts the bar just a little bit higher coming from league, but converts always strive to do well. "You don't want to have one year and then have to go back to league. It's almost like you have failed. I was worried about that and that's why I came to Leeds.

"It was quite hard in France, but those are the times you have to be motivated and keep going. "I feel I got better in the second year and now I want to prove myself in England. I think Henry [Paul] has done well and I can learn from people like him and Shontayne. "Jason Robinson was a huge hit in league and even bigger in union with England. Those are the role models you admire and strive to be like."

Now the assistant coach at Sale, Robinson will be hoping his side can end the three-match winning run of second-placed London Irish tonight. akhan@thenational.ae