When Jonah Lomu first ran at us in secondary schools rugby - with the ball tucked under one giant arm - he would laugh in the face of head-on tacklers. Not a gentle chuckle, either. Nor a derisive snort. These were bellyaching guffaws. He sincerely found it hilarious that mere humans - normal-sized ones at that - would try to tackle him.
And, boy, he was having fun.
I was a lousy player at that level of the game and every other one I played in, but some of the other blokes in the Waiuku College 1st XV were good footy players. A few went on to representative honours. No matter to Jonah. He was fair and even-handed in his skittling of defenders: good players, bad players - we were all flicked aside like beads of sweat from a shaken forehead.
That first year, he was a lock in Wesley College's 2nd XV and was, by Jonah standards, a shade on the skinny side. But people were already talking about him. Before he became world rugby's first global star -- back when the flattening of Mike Catt was a mere twinkling in his eye -- everyone involved in Counties secondary schools rugby knew Jonah was something different. Especially those of us unfortunate enough to find ourselves standing in front of him on a Saturday morning.
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We faced him again in the years that followed, when he would start matches for Wesley's 1st XV at No 8, before moving to first five-eighths or centre, depending on his mood, and ducking in to jump at No 2 in the lineouts. I'm pretty sure he put the ball into a scrum one time.
By the third year I played against him, Jonah wasn't laughing any more. His game face was on - and there was another 20-odd kilograms of muscle packed on to his frame and 20-or-so metres gained with every run. He had become the brutal force that world rugby was soon to discover. But I'll never forget that laugh.
Winston Aldworth is the Herald's travel editor