I was brought up in Wellington in a rugby-crazy family. We all played, my brother, my cousins, it was just part of our upbringing. I played from five years old but it wasn’t until I was about 18 that I realised I had the opportunity to make a career out of it. Moving to the UK was always in the back of my mind as I had a brother playing there and in 2003 I took the plunge, signing a contract to play for the Exeter Chiefs.
“It was a massive culture shock – and it made me grow up a lot,”
I was in my early twenties and one of those guys who didn’t have a driver’s licence. Didn’t have a bank account. Was still living at home with Mum and Dad at 22. So in terms of life skills, I needed the shakeup. By moving to a new country you not only experience a different culture, you have to play by someone else’s rules. I was fortunate to have my brother around and he showed me the ins and outs of how things were done in England. I got that bank account. Got my drivers licence. Some of those basic things. But I was also left to my own accord to figure a few things out by myself. Working out how to use the subway system, navigating the supermarkets and just finding out how to do general life admin on the other side of the world.
I had an amazing 12-year career in rugby but I’ve never forgotten what it was like to resettle in a new country. When I saw an advert for the Player Relationship Manager for PRP it felt like something I’d done in a previous life. When I was playing, my brother and I were often the ones helping new players feel welcome – checking in to see if everything was alright, taking them out for dinner, making them part of the team environment. This wasn’t just Pacific Islanders – it was players from all around the world. So this was a job that suited me to a tee – helping people is a massive passion of mine, plus it was a chance to get back into rugby scene again. But not as a player or coach or manager; this role was from a different perspective.
Aayden (PRP CEO) warned me that the role needed patience, that things would take a little time. And I thought ‘nah nah nah’. But I quickly realised it really does. But once you’re on a roll and understanding this entirely different side of the industry it’s exciting. It’s still rugby – but this is the life-changing stuff.
“When a player needs support or advice, whether that’s around family or kids or trying to get ahead in life across the world, I’m there for them. 24-hours a day,”
I’ve been around the majority of the UK clubs now and met many of the players – and most of the time we don’t even talk about rugby. It’s everything but. It can take a while to build relationships, as it does with anyone because I’m a stranger to these guys. Why would a player open up, ask for help or just bounce ideas off me, if I haven’t earnt their trust and respect? But over time with me nagging them, consistently texting and emailing, you build that up. Through building these connections with players, we’re seeing amazing progress for them.
There’s a couple of guys who are getting businesses started – and I’m helping them learn how things work over here. UK tax laws, for example. What surprised me is that these guys have been professional rugby players for years but their agents haven’t even educated them on simple things like taxes and their implications. There’s taxes for everything here! You’re not even allowed on the road without car insurance and the correct licence plus wage slips look pretty different; you want to understand where your taxes go, what bracket you’re in and what’s going towards national insurance.
It’s a small detail but the implications are huge so we ensure players aren’t caught off guard. I’m here helping players settling in, looking after their personal development, their welfare and their transition. Helping them with those bank accounts and drivers licences. Historically, rugby academies have prepared you incredibly well for life on the rugby field (training, diet and recovery for example) but not so much when it comes to those life skills.
I wish I’d had the support of an organisation like the PRP when I was a young player arriving in the UK. You can see firsthand the impact it makes in players’ lives and how they perform on and off the field.