There is a famous moment when Sione Lauaki plants his hand on Richie McCaw, to put it lightly, a fend which sends the All Black legend flying.

The 17-test All Black Lauaki, who has died at the tragically young age of 35, had it all as a destructive, ball-in-hand tight-loosie.

No one, not even McCaw, was safe, and everyone saw the threat, because you simply couldn't miss it.

Memories ... for all the faults, Lauaki certainly left a few.


Every now and then, there are wow moments, when you catch a footballer for the first time, and see a career of remarkable highs on the evidence of a few seconds. Right or wrong.

This has happened to me just a few times, including the first viewing of a young Huntly league player named Tawera Nikau, when he turned up for Otahuhu many moons ago. Nikau certainly delivered on that promise, even if his Kiwis career was dotted with controversial withdrawals.

The first sighting of an Atom Ant front rower named Keven Mealamu was also special, the first of many, many sightings as Mealamu and his career grew.

Likewise the first time Lauaki stormed into view. This occurred during a game for Auckland, when he came on and powered on to a kickoff reception, a big man flying like the wind.

He was to become an even bigger man capable of rolling back the best of them, as on the 2007 occasion he led the Chiefs' destruction of the Crusaders with punishing runs and even a tricky try-creating kick.

But there were always doubts about his fitness and psyche. A move to Waikato and the Chiefs didn't rid Lauaki of the gremlins.

Whatever McCaw copped - big fend, big injuries - he had the capacity to get back up again, and again, and again. The love of punishing training sessions, emotional strength, stability, a sense of purpose ... he had the lot, whereas a man like Lauaki didn't. Not even close, unfortunately, because he had an x-factor the game cries out for.

We are not to know if illnesses - renal failure and cardiovascular problems - discovered in 2012 contributed to his premature career decline.

What quickly became clear in Lauaki's truncated elite career is that he didn't have the capacity, mental or physical, to keep getting up. There were serious off-field transgressions, assaults that he admitted to.

But at his rare best, he was a never-to-be-forgotten sight on the field, a one-man stampede. No other All Black in the professional age represents so much potential lost.