Aside from the main airport, there are not many landmarks in the south Auckland suburb of Mangere, but in a dilapidated neighbourhood the home of former heavyweight boxer David Tua's parents stood out.

The grand two-storey building with its own pillared entrance appeared incongruous among assorted churches and off-licenses. A young Charles Piutau, who grew up a street away, walked past the house most days and remembers thinking, "That's Tua's house. If he can do it then so can I. One day. One day..."

Steven Luatua, who was a few streets away, harbours similar memories.

Bound together through family – Luatua's brother married Piutau's sister – the pair have followed nearly the exact same path, graduating from New Zealand age-grade sides to breaking through in the same season for the Auckland Blues.

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Finally, they made their debut together for the All Blacks against France in New Plymouth on June 22, 2013.

"For every kid who has ever chucked a ball around that is the dream," Piutau said.

"It makes you feel so blessed. Not many players get to pull on that jersey. To do it alongside your best mate makes it even more special."

But then that childhood dream ended. Both players missed out on New Zealand's 2015 World Cup squad with Piutau moving to Europe that year and Luatua following two years later making them both ineligible for international selection.

This summer they reunited at Bristol Bears. Fullback Piutau joined from Ulster as the league's highest-paid player, making his debut this month in the Premiership Rugby Cup against Gloucester.

Richie McCaw, Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua pose with the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Getty
Richie McCaw, Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua pose with the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Getty

Luatua, the flanker, had already spent a year dogging it out in the RFU Championship.

Their departures left a sour taste in New Zealand, particularly as both left in the prime of their careers.

Mercenaries and sell-outs were among the brickbats flung at the pair.

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Money was clearly a driving factor in leaving the country of their birth, but to accuse either man of personal greed is to completely misunderstand their motivations or background.

As a result of being under a flight path, Mangere has some of the cheapest property in Auckland and hence a large immigrant community.

Arriving from Tonga, Piutau's father held down all manner of jobs, often at the same time: bartender, battery factory worker, bouncer, taxi driver.

"He would leave first thing in the morning and get back last thing at night," Piutau said.

"Growing up seeing their work ethic and the choices that they have made, it has helped shaped me and moulded the way I am. They came to New Zealand to provide a better opportunity for us as their kids so for me I just want to repay them and make sure they are well looked after."

Luatua's parents, meanwhile, arrived from Samoa and took up jobs as couriers. In the school holidays, Luatua would jump in their van at 6am.

"The good thing looking back now is that I know my way around Auckland," Luatua said.

"It means I know all the streets like the back of my hand."

Charles Piutau is one of the world's best-paid players. Photo / Getty
Charles Piutau is one of the world's best-paid players. Photo / Getty

It was not just their parents who provided for them, but their brothers and sisters too. "When I was younger I did not really appreciate it, but my sisters and brothers always took the front foot in having to work on their holidays," Luatua said.

"It is not just my parents' sacrifice but my sisters as well who all had summer jobs."

It seems no coincidence that Piutau, as the youngest of 10 siblings, and Luatua, the youngest of five, were able to make it so far in professional rugby.

"After school I was able to chase a dream and go after something I really wanted to do," Piutau said.

"My older siblings did not have that opportunity. They had responsibilities. They could only do that after they had left school and had been to university. They paved the way for us."

That is why they gave up the opportunity of wearing the silver fern and all the personal ambitions that come with it.

But neither man simply went where the money was highest.

They each chose Bristol for a reason and that reason was head coach Pat Lam. It was Lam who gave each player their Super Rugby debut at a struggling Blues franchise and it was Lam who sold his vision of "inspiring the victory through rugby success" at Bristol.

"No matter that we have come from different places, Pat has made us understand that we are representing this city and this jersey," Luatua said.

"That way we have to get to know the city, get to know the people and have pride in ourselves and the club."

Steven Luatua in action for Bristol. Photo / Getty
Steven Luatua in action for Bristol. Photo / Getty

That involves learning from the Bristolian core at the club, including second row Joe Joyce and halfback Andy Uren. Joyce, in particular, has taught both men much about their local surroundings, including a tour of his birthplace Southmead, a neighbourhood not too dissimilar to Mangere.

"He grew up just down the road and that was an eye-opener," Piutau said.

"For me, hearing about his upbringing around the cricket club and the local pub, it is cool to see that side of it and understand what it means to him."

"It is definitely not the nicest of places but he is proud of that and owns that," Luatua said.

"He is the guy who pushes the idea of being Bristol proud and imparting his knowledge."

"The kids are proud to wear Bristol jerseys," Piutau added.

"They want to be the next Joycey and play for Bristol. He's the real superstar."

Both men are committed to soaking up more Bristol culture. Luatua believes he knows the words to at least half the lyrics for the club's victory song, Blackbird by the Wurzels, while Piutau confesses, "I am just clapping my hands real loud, I have a lot of work to do to catch up on it."

Neither is looking back, even when the All Blacks were touring during the autumn.

That path ended, but they are both several steps closer to making the fantasy of Tua's house a reality.

"There are no would have, could have, should haves," Luatua said.

"There are no guarantees in life. I am really happy at Bristol and stoked that I can provide a more comfortable lifestyle for my family."