By CHRIS RATTUE
The main injury danger to Sosene Anesi's early sporting career was tennis elbow.
But when rugby came along, it was two dodgy knees which led Anesi to believe that his career might have been over before it really started.
The 23-year-old has quietly become the try scoring star of this year's NPC, while other big names on the wing either cooled their heels or went stone cold.
Doug Howlett has been mainly absent, Joe Rokocoko struggles to get a start, and even Anesi's Waikato wing partner, Sitiveni Sivivatu, has been strangely quiet for much of the season. Sivivatu has seven tries, but five of them came in one game against Auckland.
Anesi, though, keeps the tries ticking along, scoring in five of the eight matches, and he leads the competition with eight after notching a couple in the come-from-behind win over North Harbour.
Anesi came from Samoa to New Zealand in 2000 on a rugby scholarship arranged between St Joseph's College in Apia and St John's College in Hamilton.
Anesi's family - which includes five brothers and two sisters - has a tennis and athletics background and those are the sports that dominated his early life. Anesi believes his 100m best of 10.6s is still the Samoan record. And shortly after arriving here, he won a Waikato secondary schools tennis title.
"I didn't really play rugby as a kid. I was a tennis player then," he says.
His rugby career started to take off in his late teens.
He represented Samoa in sevens in 1999 and 2000, the year he also made the Waikato secondary schools side, before switching his national allegiance to New Zealand - something that would not be possible under the current IRB rules.
Last year, Anesi played in all but one of Waikato's NPC matches, scoring three tries.
This year, he has been ever-present, with his 90kg frame not only scooting away for tries but also showing up in cover defence.
Yet three years ago, Anesi's career struck disaster when a knee blew out during a sevens training camp and required reconstruction.
He had only just come back with the Waikato Colts at the end of 2001 when the same happened to the other knee.
"I thought that was it for me, there would be no more rugby," says Anesi. "I'd never had any serous injuries like that before."
After two missed seasons and some serious rehabilitation, Anesi is making his mark and pushing for his first Super 12 contract with the Chiefs, where only Sivivatu is a certain wing selection.
His spell with the national sevens side boosted his confidence, he says, as well as honing his fitness and speed in preparation for his first season under new Waikato coach John Mitchell.
Tomorrow's clash between Waikato and Taranaki in New Plymouth will bring the season's try-scoring stars together, with Anesi and Sivivatu lining up against former Chiefs wing Shayne Austin, who has notched seven, and Samoan Sailosi Tagicakibau, on five.
Anesi will attempt to score in his fifth consecutive match, although statistics don't overly concern him.
Mitchell said Anesi showed a lot of courage in defence, but needed to improve his tackling, kicking, and work in the contact area.
Mitchell said: "He prepares very well and he's an athlete. We're working on a lot of his little skills.
"At times he's let some one-on-ones through, and that's about learning things like getting his feet in closer and going through the tackle. But he's making great strides.
"He hasn't arrived yet by any means. When he does, we'll have a pretty exciting player."
Date of birth: June 3, 1981
Club: Hamilton Marist
NPC team: Waikato
NPC fixtures, results and standings