By ALAN PERROTT



Gerry Preston, the man who put the steel in David Tua's left hook, says his former charge has a boxer's chance.



"It only takes one punch to win or lose a fight."



He is proud of the man who graduated from his spartan gym in Mangere Bridge to step where few New Zealanders have gone - into the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world.

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If Tua wins, Mr Preston plans to climb Mangere Mountain and give the city a mighty raspberry for not believing enough that the 27-year-old Samoan could make it.



"Tua was a lazy bugger - you had to push him. But I still give him a boxer's chance."



While he gives Tua a prayer, South Auckland's Pacific Island ministers are just hoping someone is going to join them tomorrow.



South Auckland's churches are usually hives of worship and harmonies throughout the weekend.



But come the 3 pm service tomorrow, the pews could be as quiet as the grave.



New Zealanders of all ethnic origins, as well as people in Tua's birthplace, Samoa, will gather to watch the fight - to be carried in New Zealand live on TV3 from 3 pm.



Tua fever has gripped both countries and the islands. Tua haircuts are sprouting in Manukau, children in the boxing gyms that dot the city have turned up for training dreaming of being the next Tua and the ulafala necklace the boxer asked Samoans to wear is everywhere.Hundreds of people, many of them schoolchildren, have faxed, written or e-mailed Tua in Las Vegas. Among them is Prime Minister Helen Clark, who sent him a fax signed by her alone. It was not sent on behalf of the Labour Party, after Finance Minister Michael Cullen blocked Parliament this week from sending its congratulations on the grounds that it was time-wasting.



Undeterred, the Coalition's junior partner, the Alliance, sent Tua a fax, as did National.



Today there is hardly a big-screen television available for hire anywhere in Auckland.



One of the popular places to watch the fight is expected to be Rosa Pasifika, a former supermarket in the Otara Shopping Mall.



Organiser Tanupo Aukuso said interest had been phenomenal, with hundreds of people showing their allegiance by wearing the ulafala necklaces, which Tua will wear into the ring.



Those from David Tua's home village, Faleatiu, are easily spotted. Their distinctive ulafala includes two pieces of tapa on the back spelling out Tua Man.



The necklaces have become the fashion accessory de jour.



In Samoa, Mormons, Assembly of God, Methodists and members of other denominations have been ordered by the matai to pray at the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in an interdenominational service dedicated to Tua's success.



Mac Price, New Zealand High Commissioner in Apia, said: "The Samoan sports lotto is taking bets on the fight.



"No one here is brave enough to bet on Lennox Lewis. At the odds they are offering someone could clean up."



In Auckland, Samoan leader the Rev Mua Strickson-Pua has his own prediction for the fight.



"I'm supposed to be a religious person, but I hope Tua panelbeats him," he said.



"It's a daylong celebration. We sing, eat and tell stories to the children and while the fight is on we are in phone contact with the rest of the family in Palmerston North, Wellington and Dunedin."



New Zealand troops in East Timor are likely to miss out on live coverage of the bout.



Captain Denise Mackay said from East Timor yesterday that while the troops had a satellite TV link, most sport came through a Malaysian satellite and was mainly golf and racing.



It was unlikely they would see the fight live or the All Blacks game against France in Paris.



Captain Mackay said internet coverage of the fight would be available.



Meanwhile, the Manu Samoa youth rugby World Cup squad is threatening to revolt.



The team coach is very unpopular after scheduling training for 3 pm tomorrow at Grey Lynn Park.





The Herald Online is ringside for the countdown to David Tua's tilt at the world heavyweight boxing title. Reporter Peter Jessup and photographer Kenny Rodger bring you all the news, inside information and pictures, leading up to this Sunday afternoon's showdown in Las Vegas.