In-form MAC premier club rugby prop-loosie Paula Latu has heard the jokes suggesting his wages may be reduced this week.
Latu, 23, works as a slaughterman at Progressive Meats in Hastings, the company which is the major sponsor of the Havelock North premier side. Latu produced a player-of-the-match display at No 8 in his side's 29-25 upset win against Havelock North at Anderson Park on Saturday to become the 15th weekly winner as the tussle to become the 2019 winner of the McDonald's-Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year award continued.
Should Havelock North miss out on a Tui Maddison Trophy semifinal berth in their 125th anniversary year this loss will be looked on as crucial.
"Nathan [former Havelock North player Paewai] was looking a bit sad at work on Monday morning. But it's all good there's always plenty of banter between the different clubs here at work ... it's the same when we play Taradale as one of our big bosses, Stu [Cruden] is a staunch Taradale supporter," Latu explained.
The sixth of 12 children in his family who left the village of Mataika in Tonga to settle in Gisborne when he was 14, Latu, is a brother of former New Zealand under-20s winger Penikolo Latu, who plays for Tech, and Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports loosie Lani Latu.
This is first season as a tighthead prop and despite only playing the during the last eight weeks of the season after returning from a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in El Salvador, Latu, is already ranked among the top six players in this MVP competition.
"I'm hoping to crack the Hawke's Bay Saracens squad this season and the Hawke's Bay Magpies next year. Yes, our MAC side's semifinal hopes are gone but I'm still going hard to make the most of whatever chance I can get. Don't give up ... keep going," Latu said.
"Never turn back the past. We can only fix what is in front of us and keep going hard."
Apart from a little bit of "backyard stuff" back in Tonga, Latu didn't play much rugby before attending Gisborne Boys' High School. He had two years with the MAC premiers before heading off on his mission.
"The mission was a good experience ... something different from rugby."
He learned plenty of Spanish in El Salvador and used this language to say grace at Saturday's after-match function. He obviously has a good relationship with God as he wasn't expected to play against the villagers after straining a hamstring during training.
"I prayed to God to give me strength. I strapped the leg up and enjoyed the game back at No 8," Latu recalled.
"A lot of people tell me tighthead prop is a tough position. I thought it would be hard, too. But it's a fun position, an amazing experience and different from the loose forwards."
His first match at tighthead was seven weeks ago and during his first four weeks back with the MAC team, Latu shed 13kg in an attempt to raise his fitness levels.
"It's good to be back playing rugby again. I have to thank Junior and his wife, Sally, who I'm staying with ... they are so wonderful to me," Latu said referring to MAC club stalwart Junior Moate who is also his supervisor at Progressive Meats.
It's easy to see Latu has the right connections to assist him with his quest to gain Hawke's Bay Saracens and Hawke's Bay Magpies selection in the future. No doubt he will be eager to repay some of those connections by helping MAC beat Tamatea in Saturday's seventh round clash at Flaxmere Park in the feature match of MAC's club day.
This "test match" as it has been regularly labelled should be a thriller similar to the 32-all draw in the Nash Cup round. Tamatea are still winless this season and head coach Levi Armstrong agreed if this match doesn't motivate his troops, nothing will.
Best & fairest
MAC v Havelock North: 3, Paula Latu (MAC); 2, Albert Hemopo (Havelock North); 1, Tom Iosefo (MAC).
Pirate v Tamatea: 3, Rangatira Fox (Pirate); 2, Matt Martin (Pirate); 1, Ted Symes (Pirate).
Taradale v Tech: 3, Cristobal Niedmann (Taradale); 2, Mark Braidwood (Tech); Nathan Tweedy (Taradale).
NOBM v Central: 3, Hannon Brighouse (NOBM); 2, Sean Baker (Central); 1, Jack Nelson-Murray (NOBM).
Hastings v Clive: 3, Jayden Rihia (Hastings); 2, Lucas Goodin (Clive); 1, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe (Hastings).
Leaderboard: 12pts: Elijah Martin (Tech). 11pts: Donovan Mataira (Clive). 9pts: Sean Skeet (NOBM), Jayden Rihia (Hastings). 8pts: Paula Latu (MAC), Zac Donaldson (NOBM). 7pts: Saia Paese, Liam Edwards (both NOBM), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Pirate), Lincoln McClutchie (Tamatea). 6pts: Patrick Teddy (NOBM), Iakopo Mapu, Jordan Kupa, Humphrey Sheild, Eru Wano, Cristobal Niedmann (all Taradale), Jacob Devery (Hastings), Albert Hemopo (Havelock North), Tom Iosefo (MAC), Slayde Lange (Tech), Damien Scott, Hayden Hann (both Pirate).