A talented Kaitaia rugby and league player has become the latest export from the Far North to play in Australia after being signed by the Canterbury Bulldogs Under-20 development squad earlier this month.
Sonny Rupapera, who will be seen in action with the Bulldogs side contesting the 2016 Holden Cup championship in Australia next season, actually grew up playing rugby in the Mangonui JMB competition. He progressed through all the JMB and North Zone IMB grades with Te Rarawa, where he was found mostly playing either prop or the No.8 position; before progressing to senior club rugby with Te Rarawa during the 2014 season.
Despite admitting he didn't enjoy his first taste of league when he tried his hand at the 13-man game a couple of seasons ago, Rupapera decided to have another crack, and ended up enjoying the contact the code offered. The 19-year-old made his debut with the Muriwhenua Falcons in the RLN Premiership this season and was later named the Falcons' player of the year. For his performances at second row with the Falcons, Rupapera also won selection into the Northern Swords Premiers and played two matches in the National Competition.
Rupapera wanted to thank several coaches for helping him realise his potential. Jason Te Paao told Rupapera he could go all the way when presenting him with the Te Rarawa under-11 player of the year award. Richard Murray coached him with the Te Rarawa U16s and helped him make the Northland U16 reps, along with local league exponents Jim Larkin and Falcons coach Vince 'Tini' Rudolph.
One preferring to do the hard slog and let his achievements speak for themselves, Rupapera acknowledged his selection showed that the pathway to the next level was obtainable for other athletes from remote places like Kaitaia. However he also reminded other aspiring players there was "a lot of hard work" involved for anyone wanting to make it to the next level.
Having nearly completed the second year of a carpentry apprenticeship at KPH, Rupapera departed for Australia on Monday to join the Bulldogs.