At the start of the 2018 season 18-year-old Iosefa Maloney-Fiaola was in a rugby vacuum.

The former Sacred Heart first XV star in Auckland was playing Premier 2 club rugby in Opotiki wondering where his future might be.

Now he's one of six Bay of Plenty players selected for the first training camp from which the next New Zealand Under 20 side will be picked.

Originally from Matata, Maloney-Fiaola came to Opotiki this year because of family connections in the eastern Bay.


After some good showings for the local club, the Bay of Plenty Under 19 team selectors were convinced to have a good look at the strapping 113kg, 1.95 metre (6 foot 5 in) lock.

He was invited to a trial in June, duly impressed those who mattered and became a key part of the Junior Steamers side that won the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament in Taupo in September.

According to Opotiki Rugby Club spokesman Tony Howe "this guy is something special".

"We think he has the X-factor."

Under 19s coach Mike Rogers is delighted for Maloney-Fiaola's recognition at a higher level.

"We didn't know about him at the start of the season. He came out of nowhere to our trial. It's awesome that he's now been recognised by New Zealand selectors."

Maloney-Fiaola will be joined at the first under 20 camp in Palmerston North from December 3-8 by five of his Bay of Plenty teammates from the Taupo triumph.

Halfback Leroy Carter, first five and fullback Cole Forbes, flanker Kohan Herbert and midfielders Lalomilo Lalomilo and Dennon Robinson-Bartlett will all be at the camp.


It's the first stage of selecting a New Zealand Under 20 team for next year's Junior World Cup in Argentina.

Mike Rogers is delighted at the number of local players selected for the camp.

"Last year we had five picked at this stage. So we're ecstatic to have increased that number and there would have been more but for circumstances," he explained.

The highest profile name missing is Kaleb Trask.

The Steamers fullback and first five made his Mitre 10 Cup debut this season and now has a Chiefs Wider Training Group contract.

He's still eligible for the New Zealand Under 20s next year and Rogers reckons that if he's not called up to Super Rugby as an injury replacement, he's a certainty to be back in the New Zealand Under 20s for the second time next year.

Flanker Jeriah Mua would also have been picked, according to Rogers, but for a serious injury suffered in a pre-season match which kept him out of the Taupo tournament.

Another player Rogers is especially delighted for is Cole Forbes. Last year's Tauranga Boys' College first XV player made his full Steamers debut in the last match of the season against Northland, but hasn't achieved recognition outside the Bay until now.

"He wasn't in the Chiefs Under 18 set up which we couldn't figure out" says Rogers "but then a lot of good players miss out. We just have to keep on pushing for them."

Rogers reckons the unluckiest Bay of Plenty player to miss out on a place at the first camp is tighthead prop Jonas Pomare.

"He's the one I really feel sorry for but we're hoping that by the time of the next camp in March, which is position specific, we might be able to get him in to get specialist coaching from Mike Cron, the All Blacks scrum guru."

While Rogers is rapt to have more than 10 per cent of the first New Zealand Under 20s camp coming from the Bay of Plenty, he reckons a lot of the credit must go to the Union's academy manager James Porter.

"He's the one who does the recruitment, retention and development of these young men. I just get the pleasure of coaching them."