He's a South Auckland boy who has seen the world as an international sports star - now Henry Fa'afili is raising his family in Tauranga and becoming a role model to the city's young men.

Fa'afili, a Samoan-born former New Zealand Warriors and professional rugby union player, has a long list of career highlights including becoming the first Kiwis player to secure a hat trick against Great Britain, being "lucky enough" to represent both the Kiwis and Samoa league squads in his time and coming up against Aussie league player Brad Fittler on the field for the first time.

"He was huge," Fa'afili said, and admitted he felt a bit "star struck".

"When I first played against Brad Fittler I was just a young buck coming through."


Fa'afili played for the New Zealand Warriors from 2000-2004.

Following on from there he played three seasons of league in the United Kingdom before transitioning to rugby union in France before playing in Leeds for two years and joining Irish rugby, where he finished his professional rugby career in 2014.

While his career achievements are illustrious, he's also a recognisable face for some of the best try celebrations in the game.

He's pretty well known for his personal try celebration "cracking the coconut", where he marked each try by pretending the ball was a coconut, cracking it open and then drinking the milk from it.

"The try celebrations back in the day put in a little bit of flavour."

He says the English loved it, "bringing a bit of seasoning to the game".

He has even had a bit of a try celebration session with sports stars Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, teaching them a phone selfie try celebration during Kiwis camp earlier this year.

I meet up with Fa'afili in the cafeteria area of his Tauranga workplace, Aspire Health and Fitness, where he is a strength and conditioning coach, providing one-on-one training to clients.

He's a positive guy who is very welcoming and full of smiles.

From his extensive career to raising his family in Tauranga and a new venture in the city, there is a lot to discuss.

Fa'afili left Samoa and moved to New Zealand with his family when he was 3.

He grew up in Manurewa in South Auckland - Dad was an accountant, he didn't struggle growing up and went to a decent high school.

Having rugby league fields in his neighbourhood played a key role in his success on the field - that, on top of a mindset he learned as a child to never give up.

"When we first moved from Samoa the closest field was a rugby league field," Fa'afili said.

"After school me and the boys would all go over and play rugby league."

His "boys" he refers to are friends he grew up with including Junior Eteri, Moa Ioapo and the late David Palelei and those "fields" became a vital part of his unofficial pre-Warriors training.

"We all grew up together, we were just boys that just wanted to play rugby league.

"I'm thankful for them."

That's where and when he says he "fell in love" with the sport.

His career has taken him to some amazing places.

"I never thought a South Auckland boy would be eating pizza in Italy or drink red wine in France.

"It just opens up a lot of experience."

Although no longer playing, he's still involved in the sport as an NZRL Ambassador to provide guidance and support to the next generation of league players and was involved in the Kiwis camp ahead of last year's Rugby League World Cup.

While he says the result was disappointing for the Kiwis' campaign, the Tier Two teams "really did perform" - and that was a positive thing for the sport itself.

He's talking about the Kiwis' shock exit from the Rugby League World Cup after suffering two consecutive losses to second-tier nations - first defeated by Mate Ma'a Tonga and then beaten by Fiji a week later.

"It was great for the game."

This year, Fa'afili plans to put his focus into another sport - boxing.

He starts a new project to mentor young men, teaching them important life skills, discipline and guidance through a newly set up Tauranga Boxing Academy with Tauranga businessman Craig Nees.

Fa'afili said he was approached by Nees, who had a vision to help steer youth in the right direction, and he was excited about it.

He said former New Zealand and Australasian boxing champion Billy Graham was seeing "amazing" results through the Naenae Boxing Academy, providing a fitness-based development programme for at-risk youth, teaching boxing skills and helping young people reach their potential and make a valuable contribution to their communities.

"It changed so many boys.

"He [Nees] wants to bring what Billy Graham's done in Wellington here in Tauranga."

Fa'afili will be a mentor and head coach and by April, the project will be well under way, he says.

"I'm a big believer that sometimes all they need is a second chance."

He said it wasn't about starting and finishing with these youths, it was about helping these young people gain new skills, work experiences and more so they could become contributing members of the community.

He said it was about getting the young men to feel proud of themselves, taking ownership of their own actions and learning good habits.

He said some of these boys, "don't have a father figure and role model" so he hoped to become that for them.

"Teaching them what it's like in the real world, teaching respect, you show them that and they can start respecting each other."

Fa'afili can relate to these youths and admits he could have easily have "gone the wrong way" when he was younger but because he was surrounded by "positive people" he learned to never give up.

"I think as a young boy Dad was very strict ... and I think at a young age I was set that mentality."

He remembers not making an Under-15 rep league team, how he felt and how he moved on from it. He says not making teams or getting dropped from sides can have an impact on a person's self esteem and self worth.

"I could have easily gone the wrong way."

Luckily he never gave up and it is this "don't give up" mindset that has helped Fa'afili's success.

Now he hopes to help young people in Tauranga to learn to deal with their own personal struggles and provide options to get over them.

"If you fall, it's fine. Falling down doesn't make you a failure, staying down does.

"I'm a firm believer in, you work hard you get the reward.

"If you don't try, you don't achieve."

To find out more about the Tauranga Boxing Academy, email henry.faafili@yahoo.com.
Raising a family in Tauranga:

Two years ago Fa'afili and his long-term partner Amy Shannon, originally from Wellington, moved to Tauranga.

"We thought once I finished up and hung the boots up we'd start our family here".

The pair decided to move to Tauranga and start their family - a move partly made because Shannon's sister lived here and they felt it was an ideal location for a young family.

"We love it.

"It's a life that we've always dreamed of."

They now have two sons - Harper, 3, and Beau, 2, with Fa'afili referring to "having my two boys" as one of his biggest achievements.

Fa'afili says Shannon has selflessly put her own career on hold to raise their boys.

"The greatest gift you can give anyone is your time."

Despite Fa'afili's extensive rugby league and union career, there is no guarantee his boys will follow his footsteps in either sport even though they boast some talents at such a young age already.

"They've got hand-eye co-ordination, very fast and very quick."

He says he and Shannon would love to see them head towards tennis or golf and also be musically minded learning the guitar and piano, but the couple will support them in "whatever they choose".

"My partner doesn't want them to play rugby league or rugby at all," Fa'afili jokes.