A new miniseries on the life of the greatest rugby player the world has seen sheds new light on one of our nation's finest sporting legends, writes David Skipwith.
Kiwis and rugby fans around the globe well know the legacy left by the late and larger-than-life All Black icon, Jonah Lomu.
But a new miniseries about the first Tongan All Black and the youngest ever All Black test player sheds new light on one of our nation's finest sporting legends.
Jonah, the two-part series directed by Danny Mulheron (The Kick) starring Mosese Veaila in the lead role in his television debut, charts the giant winger's climb from his early teens in Māngere to the top of test rugby, through to his death from a heart attack in November, 2015.
Mulheron's project reveals the impact international stardom and relentless scrutiny had on Lomu's personal life, including his three marriages, family relationships and friendships. It also highlights his unwavering optimism and determination throughout his struggle with a devastating kidney illness.
"There is terrific depth to Jonah's story," says Mulheron.
"It goes into his relationships and the illness coming to the fore and him wanting - and working hard - to get better.
"It touches on his relationship with the public and a lot of the hassles and the ghastly way New Zealand turns on its heroes. But it's [about] the effect it has on his relationships, with the women and friends in his life."
For Veaila, who shares Lomu's Tongan heritage and grew up attending the same Māngere church as Jonah's family, the role had added significance. So too for 15-year-old Dominic Tupou, a relative of Lomu's, who plays the younger version of Jonah before and during his time at Wesley College.
While too young to have seen Lomu in his prime, as a child Veaila would try and prise tips from Jonah's mum, Hepi, about the secrets to her son's success.
"The last time I saw Hepi I must have been 12 or 13," he explains. "I'd ask her things like like, 'What does Jonah eat for breakfast?'
"I was always sitting at her feet at church and she would flick my ears if we tried to run out to play."
In filling Lomu's big boots on screen, less than a year after graduating from Toi Whakaari drama school, Veaila's experience mirrors Jonah's rapid rise from schoolboy sensation to household name.
The 22-year-old admits it took plenty of hard physical work to prepare for the role. For two months he worked out twice a day and followed a strict diet, under the guidance of Joe Naufahu, who plays former All Blacks centre Frank Bunce and Halaifonua Finau, who worked as a writer, associate producer and Tongan adviser on the series.
Watching him in character during shooting of a scene of a press conference, Veaila bears an uncanny resemblance to the man himself - from the tuft of hair and goatee beard and No 11 etched into his left eyebrow.
"He has actually had a Jonah experience, in that he's come out of nowhere and just blasted it," says Mulheron.
Lomu's brother, John and others closely involved in his life and career, such as former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew, ex-coach John Hart and Grant Kereama - Lomu's long-time friend who donated a kidney for his 2004 transplant operation - visited the set and provided input to the storyline.
"It was quite emotional," explained Mulheron. "They would all give Mosese a hug. When Grant met Mosese at the hospital they were in tears. Mosese was Jonah as far as they were concerned."
Jonah's sons, Brayley and Dhyreille, also dropped by, with the former taking on a role as an autograph-hunter in one scene.
"It was crazy meeting all of those guys," Veaila explained. "It was great talking to John about how they grew up and the love they shared with their family.
"I was wearing earrings during filming in church and John said 'my dad would never have let Jonah wear those earrings'. He brought a lot of good memories of his brother."
The series also captures how, despite his unrivalled on-field feats, Lomu's private health struggle left him open to criticism, from those who unknowingly questioned his work ethic and fitness.
He broke the mould off the park too, with his individual style, love of hip-hop, and undeniable charisma changing stereotypes of the All Blacks being unsmiling giants.
Almost four years on from his passing, there remains tremendous international interest in his storied career. But while he was always loved unconditionally elsewhere around the world, he was often judged harshly here in New Zealand.
"He was sick from 94 and was never up to his best," says Mulheron.
"One of the sad things about Jonah is we've never really given him his due.
"His swagger was pretty unusual and I think he made an impact culturally beyond just rugby. Polynesian kids saw him and thought, 'We can be superstars' and that was the break-through.
"He had flaws like all of us. But he did something pretty good and made people feel a lot better about themselves and that's important."
When: 8.30pm, August 18 & 19