Warriors rookie Bunty Afoa in action against the Raiders.

Bunty Afoa arrives out of the blue

Take a trip out to a grassroots rugby league club in New Zealand and it won't be long before a future NRL back-rower pops up in front of you.

That is a popular theory shared by many in Kiwi footy circles, and while exaggerated, it's one which the numbers suggest has some substance behind it.

This weekend a third of the starting second-rowers and locks in the NRL Telstra Premiership are New Zealand born or raised players.   

But the latest addition to that group, 19-year-old Warrior Bunty Afoa, is one who has emerged almost out of nowhere, stepping up to become coach Andrew McFadden's first choice to fill the void left by Bodene Thompson's ankle injury.

This week club captain Ryan Hoffman spoke about Afoa's impressive start to his NRL career. 

"He has been great, to come in in this situation… after not really training with us, and to not look out of place is an outstanding effort from a young bloke," Hoffman said.

"I just love his attitude, he is not resting on his laurels and he is always looking to improve for the next week.

"I have been spending a bit of time with him – obviously playing similar positions – he is not really in a position that he is used to, but his willingness to learn and wanting to get better at his role is really pleasing to see.

"Bunty has done a great job in [Thompson's] absence."

 

 
In three games this season Afoa has averaged 9.3 carriers per game and 85.6 metres, while on the other side of the pill he has made at least 24 tackles in each match.

The St Paul's College graduate heads into Saturday's clash against the Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium off the back of a strong showing in Canberra last week, which featured 133 metres and 34 tackles in 70 minutes on the park.

Through his time with the Junior Warriors and the club's reserve-grade side Afoa played almost exclusively as a front-rower, a point which makes his step up to the top grade as an edge player all the more impressive.

"I am a front-row kind of guy, but I will take whatever opportunity I can get," Afoa said.

"I always said that I was a front-rower and all I did was just run straight, no footwork no nothing.

"[But] I think that mindset of running holes is making my game a little bit more interesting and [creating] more options in me.

"[I am developing] ball skills wise, passing it, running those holes, timing, that is a big one for me because I have got to hold my width.

"Mentality wise I am getting there, improving, and physically I am still developing strength wise and in terms or fitness.

"There are a lot of boys here that deserve that spot too and I have to make sure I am up there with the older boys and maintaining my standards on and off the field."

Afoa is again named to start against the eighth-placed Panthers in Round 21, although McFadden hinted mid-week that Thompson was a strong chance of returning from injury, which could cause a late reshuffle.