By Wynne Gray
Several teams last year wanted Keith Lowen's sporting talents. The Warriors asked him to switch codes and Samoa quizzed him about swapping his rugby allegiance.
The burly centre wanted to stay put though, to consolidate his place in Waikato rugby and aim for higher honours in the New Zealand scene.
That came suddenly when experienced Auckland Blues centre Eroni Clarke snapped his Achilles tendon in game one of this Super 12 season and Lowen was drafted in as a replacement.
As the shock of that call-up diminished the rookie midfielder wondered whether he had bitten off more than he could chew.
According to his flatmates that would take some doing. They have watched in awe when the 24-year-old sits down to graze while his mum reckons he is too expensive to feed on a regular basis.
There have been some prime eaters in the Waikato side over the years but when Lowen gets nicknamed Sumo you know he rates very highly.
He hits the scales at 112kg but nearly lost his appetite when the call to be a Blues squad replacement turned into his selection as first choice centre.
"I was a bit in awe of those guy - I was a bit shy as I got chucked in at the deep end," he recalled. "But in the end they were great because Eroni and Postie [Craig Innes] taught me so many things."
Whether he took advantage of those lessons will be known tonight at Eden Park as Waikato challenge Auckland for the lead in the NPC.
"It will be my test against the best," conceded Lowen, "I have had to wait a while for it but they are the big guns of the competition."
Lowen has been on the bench or in the Waikato development XV in recent weeks but was told at the final run this week by Kiwi Searancke that he would be wearing No 13 tonight, and that he had made it out of the midfield logjam of Matthew Cooper, Mark Ranby and Scott McLeod.
"We are all good mates but we all want the jobs and so it can get a bit tough at training sometimes," said Lowen.
"This will be just as tough though and I suppose I will be trying to avoid some of the big hits they will be trying to put on me."
Even if he gets torpedoed, Lowen's bulk should withstand the hits. He laughs about his size, as he has had plenty of practice fending off jocular insults.
"Usually at training someone tries to be shocked when I walk over to join the backs," he said.
A frontrower at Huntly College for a while, Lowen switched to midfield when the second five-eighths failed to front one day. He had the credentials as a sprint champion at school, where he claimed an 11sec dash for the 100m.
Now, of course, he is only accused of a gold medal for eating.
But all that humour disguises Lowen's talents and athleticism. He is a very skilled sevens player and those talents had the Warriors and then Samoa, after qualifying through his mother's heritage, seeking his signature. He is not ready for either.
"I just want to establish myself with Waikato and look to get another Super 12 contract," he said.
By Wynne Gray