During his rugby league days former Hawke's Bay Unicorns rep Don Poloa was one of the most feared players on the province's club scene.
Poloa was so powerful on the carry when playing for Tamatea, Outkast Sports and Omahu Huia it would often take three defenders to halt his progress. The 1996 and 97 Unicorn's defence was equally as impressive and it wasn't uncommon for opposing attackers to deliberately avoid his channel as often as possible.
What most Hawke's Bay league fans don't know is Poloa, now 48, did bodybuilding before he took up league and today's 12th annual NABBA Hawke's Bay bodybuilding show at Taradale High School will be his first taste of competition since 1991. He decided nine weeks ago he would enter and the self-trained competitor who is based at the FlaXrock Gym has lost 33kg since then.
"A lot of people don't recognise me," Poloa said with a laugh.
"I got up to 132kg. You know what us Samoans are like . . . we eat too much of the wrong food. During the past nine weeks I've been as disciplined with my eating as I was with my league training during my prime," Poloa, who spent the 1998 and 99 seasons playing for New South Wales Country in Australia under former Unicorns coach and former Kiwis winger Mark Elia, explained.
"There's been no sugar, no salt, no dairy products and no bread. I've been on a high protein diet . . . it's all about disciplined training and disciplined eating."
A butcher at Silver Fern Farms Takapau plant, Poloa will compete in the 40plus tall class today. He won't find out how many competitors he's up against until the show begins.
"I'm hoping for a top three finish and if I achieve that I will qualify for nationals. If everything goes well I will do the naturals comp in Taupo in a fortnight. I'll still be in shape - I'll have a munch out on Sunday and then get back into training again," Poloa said.
"People used to ask me how I got so fit for league. I just used to adapt the dedication and commitment I had for bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is all about self discipline, nobody else can do the training for you. It's not like league when you miss a tackle and hope one of your teammates will make it for you," he explained.
Poloa, the first Flaxmere bodybuilder to enter a NABBA Hawke's Bay show, trained 90 minutes each day during the nine weeks leading up to today's show.
"It got a bit longer during the last two or three weeks with more cardio. I've also choreographed my own one-minute routine with music . . . I can't tell you what the music is until the evening segment."
"I've done weights for 25 years so that part of my training has been quite enjoyable."
Poloa did his first bodybuilding comp in 1990 and was selected in a New Zealand Junior Men's team to attend an IFBB event in Sydney in 1991.
"Because of the way my birthday came I was put up into the open men's under-80kg class over there and finished third. It would be good to represent New Zealand again," he said.
Poloa heaped kudos on the facilities available to him at the FlaXrock Gym. "Everything one would want is there. I don't think enough people in Flaxmere know it's there. It's here for everybody and I'm happy to pass on my bodybuilding knowledge to anybody who wants to take it up. The youth in Flaxmere don't have to go out of town to flash gyms because everything is here."
A father of two, Poloa recalled the days when he first took up weight training and Hemi's Gym in Peary Cres was the only gym in Flaxmere. FlaXrock Gym opened in the late 1980s and was part of the pool complex and Poloa was hired to run it after the pool complex manager Ian Clayton transferred to the Ocean Spa complex in Napier.
FlaXrock Gym is now part of the Flaxmere Community Centre.
Poloa last played rugby league in 2012 at the age of 43. A groin injury was the signal to call it quits.
He was a key member of the Tamatea premier team which completed a four-peat of Hawke's Bay premiership titles in 2002. Poloa helped Tamatea win the title again in 2008 and in 2011 played for the Outkast Sports team which won the reserve grade comp.
In 2012 the Outkast team was promoted to the premier grade and they won the premiership that year and in 2013. Because of his bodybuilding commitments there's no chance of him making a comeback in Hawke's Bay's Spring Competitions which begin today at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park with a six-team premier grade, seven-team reserve grade and five-team women's grade.
In premier matches defending champions Bridge Pa Sports will take on last year's runners-up Omahu Huia, Tamatea will meet Kahuranaki and 2014 and '15 champions Napier Panthers will play Dannevirke Tigers.