Like several other fringe Super Rugby players who saw little game time in the first half of 2016, Sam Vaka is playing like he is as fresh as a daisy.

The 23-year-old centre saw just 36 minutes of Chiefs action across three games, strange when you consider the injury issues they suffered in the midfield. But we have seen the true Vaka stand tall in the last two games, both with and without the ball, as the Counties Manukau Steelers have overcome a scratchy Mitre 10 Cup opening to rise to second on the Premiership table.

"I used my time at the Chiefs as a learning curve and tried to carry it into Mitre 10, doing the little things and not getting too far ahead of myself," says the Wesley and Sacred Heart old boy.

Vaka is non-committal about his rugby after the Mitre 10 Cup, as he is uncontracted.


Sevens, having played four tournaments for New Zealand in 2014-15, is an option should he miss the cut, but he hasn't thought that far ahead. In any case, a continuation of his recent form will arouse interest from Super Rugby coaches.

His team try against the Magpies last Thursday in the crushing 48-20 win was one of the best of the season and was confirmation, if any were needed, that centre is his preferred position after taking one for the team and shifting to the wing for the narrow loss to North Harbour.

Now the focus shifts to the Wellington Lions who come to Pukekohe on Friday night to contest the inaugural Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy.

"Jonah was a humble, well respected guy who started off here in Counties. The boys are keen to put in a good performance because Jonah was one of our own. Growing up, Jonah was always the guy that every island kid looked up to. I first saw him play when I was about six or seven," Vaka says.

A likely midfield match-up with Shaun Treeby and Matt Proctor will keep Vaka and second five Cardiff Vaega on their toes.

"It'll be a really tough day at the office with two Super Rugby midfielders. They are both on form. I'll need to do a lot of things well, like catch and pass."

Steelers coach Darryl Suasua has worked with Vaka at club level with Bombay before this season and knows all about his huge potential.

"Sam is a real talented athlete. He can be dangerous. I thought he did some quite outstanding stuff against Bay of Plenty back at centre. He can be really physical," says Suasua.


Vaka is the latest in a long line of talented Steelers midfielders. In recent times, there were Siale Piutau, Bundee Aki and Rey Lee-Lo. Back in the heyday of the late 1970s, think Bruce Robertson and Graeme Taylor.