When new Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby prop Tolu Fahamokioa first arrived in Wellington from Tonga his grasp of the English language was limited.
"It was 1999. I knew all about All Black winger Jonah Lomu so when my Wellington College coach asked me what position I played I uttered winger. I started on the wing then moved to centre and from there straight to the front row," he recalled.
Despite that slow introduction to the engine room, Fahamokioa played all 10 of Wellington's ITM Cup fixtures last year including nine in the starting 15. He also spent time with the Hurricanes as injury cover earlier this season.
His form with the Lions caught the eye of Magpies head coach Craig Philpott who was keen to boost his propping depth with the former Tawa club player following the departure of All Black Ben Franks, Canada World Cup player Jason Marshall and Adrian Barone.
"It was one of the hardest decisions I made. But there was more urgency from Hawke's Bay ... they wanted me. In Wellington I would have been just another prop," Fahamokioa, who has signed a two-year deal with the Magpies, said.
"I'm loving it here. Super Rugby selection is the ultimate goal and is I see Hawke's Bay as my best chance of being seen to give it a shot."
A loosehead specialist, Fahamokioa is also learning the tighthead role to boost his versatility. Another of his tough decisions was postponing his nursing studies so he could focus on his rugby career.
"Once you stop studying nursing you can't go back and resume where you left off. You have to start again and that's what I will do when I finish rugby ... I love helping people hard out," Fahamokioa said.
His only previous taste of rep play before making the Lions last year was playing for a Wellington XV against the All Blacks in 2013. Fahamokioa was one of the Lions' better performers when beaten 36-14 by the Magpies in their Ranfurly Shield challenge at McLean Park last year.
He ranked former Magpies prop Sona Taumalolo as one of his Tongan idols and said he would be rapt if he could match Taumalolo's feats with the Magpies.
Fahamokioa will make his Tui Nash Cup debut for Tech Group of Companies Napier Technical against Tamatea in tomorrow afternoon's clash at Whitmore Park.
It was time for Fahamokioa's first gym session with Magpies fitness trainer Grant Dearns.
"A few of the players have warned me about Dearnsey. I'll be honest and say I'm not looking forward to it but I know it will be good for me."
•Other fifth round Nash Cup fixtures tomorrow will see unbeaten defending champions Carters Frame and Truss Taradale host Hawke's Bay Insurances Limited Napier Old Boys Marist, Northfuels Central host Progressive Meats Havelock North, Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports host MAC and K9 Petfoods Clive host Ansin & Monteith Hastings Rugby and Sports.