There was genuine concern after Counties Manukau's three top props fell over with long-term injuries.

How would the relatively green Steelers' tight five cope with that setback and the trial breakdown laws?

Into the breach have stepped loosehead Sean Bagshaw and 140kg bookend Kalolo Tuiloma, the latter fresh from a third McNamara Cup club title with Bombay, where he scored the winning try in the final. The Steelers' tight five, with rookie Bombay lock Matiaha Martin, also in the mix, have embraced the challenge and augmented the Steelers' physical pack approach.

Tuiloma has put his job with Ward Demolition on hold as he looks to bulldozer the Mitre 10 Cup opposition and get his head around fulltime rugby. It has been a steep learning curve, but he has played over 300 minutes, scored a try and looked the part both in the set-piece and in general play. There are times when he has struggled to hold his own, especially in the last two games against Taranaki and Auckland. However, overall, assistant coach Grant Henson is pleased with Tuiloma's progress.


"He's got a bit of X-factor, obviously a big man who can run with the ball and he's got some footwork. He performed his core roles well in those first few games," says the former Steelers hooker.

"It's been an awesome journey so far. It starts at the grassroots and I guess I found my feet at Bombay. I was unsure about whether I was ready for this level, but I've taken it with both hands," says the 26-year-old Tuiloma.

He came into the Steelers' set-up at 151kg, but the daily training and conditioning has seen him drop to 140kg. Just over two years ago he was a colossal 181kg, so he has come a long way in a short time.

"I thought I knew how to scrum, but it's a whole different level at Mitre 10 Cup. You learn on the job and every scrum is different," he says.

"It all comes down to homework, and then we have the superstars like Nepo (Laulala) and Pauliasi (Manu) helping and advising you. They know their stuff."

Not to mention his clubmate Sam Aiono, another who fell to injury.

Tuiloma did his schooling at Aorere College and latterly Timaru BHS. He was a No 8 back then. In 2013 he appeared for South Canterbury in the Heartland Championship, before heading north. Since then it has been a steady rise, his weight coming down and his form on an upwards curve. Super Rugby is a goal and he may just have turned a few heads.

Longer-term, he has open eligibility for international rugby, and with Semo Sititi and Darryl Suasua in the Steelers' coaching ranks having Manu Samoa connections, might that be a possibility?

"The Samoan jersey is up there with the All Blacks, but I'm born in New Zealand, and I'll keep my options open at the moment," says Tuiloma.

*Live commentary of the Counties Manukau v Waikato match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm on Friday.