Young Warriors props relishing Wiki comeback
For three young New Zealand Warriors props an already special week in the lead-up to the 2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines has been made that much better, thanks to the presence of a childhood hero at training.
This weekend 44-year-old Kiwi legend Ruben Wiki will lead the Warriors out onto Eden Park for the two-day tournament, and to say every member of the squad is excited for it would appear to be a huge understatement.
But in particular it's young trio Sam Lisone, Toafofoa Sipley and Isaiah Papalii who have been getting the most out of Wiki's cameo appearance, as they soak up every opportunity to learn from the former prop who appeared in over 300 NRL Telstra Premiership games throughout a 16-year career.
Usually the man barking orders at them as they go through training drills – as the club's strength and conditioning coach – for the past week or so Wiki has been in the thick of it with his young charges, and they said they wouldn't trade the experience for the world.
"It has been pretty intense having Rubes back, all of us obviously looked up to him," 22-year-old Lisone told NRL.com
"He just goes hard, 100 per cent, every single time.
"All of us young props have spoken about the thrill of getting to play with him, but I am the only front-rower from last year's NRL squad who is fortunate enough to actually get to play with him at the Nines.
"Albie (Albert Vete) missed out on selection, so I will have some bragging rights over him and the boys to start the year."
When Wiki retired from the NRL at the end of the 2008 season Lisone was 14 years of age, Sipley just 13 and Afoa 12 and not even at high school yet.
It's not lost on Wiki, who proudly admits he is more "father figure" than "bro" to them.
"I saw Sam grow up and go through the grades, he is a south Auckland boy from Otara, just like me," Wiki said.
"As for Isaiah, he is 18, the same age as my son, so like a lot of these guys, he could be one of my kids!
"They have promising careers all three of those boys, and I am just glad I get to rub shoulders with them this weekend.
"Hopefully they can show me some new things on the field."
Meanwhile Papalii, who has only a handful of Holden Cup games to his name so far, told NRL.com he was still trying to get his head around the fact that he will make his Nines debut alongside his idol.
"I have always looked up to him, I play his position and I just can’t wait to get out there with him," Papalii said.
"I remember watching him as a kid and just remember how he was such a hard worker and so ruthless on the field.
"Just watching him do his thing is pretty cool to see and it's been great at training."