One of Auckland Blues best performing players this season, Melani Nanai, is back home.
The 23-year-old who hails from Papauta and Falelatai is in the country for a family reunion. The young star is the eldest of five children of the former Manu Samoa player, Kitiona Nanai Vai and Quackie Lee-Vai.
Delighted to be back, Nanai said it was his father who inspired him and got him interested in rugby.
“My father use to play for the Manu Samoa back in 1991,” he said. “He was in the team that got Samoa in the Rugby World Cup and that’s what got me into rugby.”
Born in Samoa, Nanai moved to New Zealand when he was six years old.
“I did most of my schooling there and in 2009 my parents moved to American Samoa because my father had to study at the Kanana Fou Theological College.
“For one year while in American Samoa I played American Football and I was selected to play in the All Star team in American Samoa, one of the most popular teams there in 2010.
“In 2011 I moved back to New Zealand and started to play rugby.”
But before his exploits with the Blues, Nanai represented Samoa in Under 20s in 2013.
“This is my second year playing for the Auckland Blues,” he said.
So how did he get the chance?
“I just played for clubs in Auckland and one of the scouts grabbed me from there and that is how it all started.
“It was hard and still is but I’m blessed with the opportunity.”
The chance to play professional rugby is a dream realised.
“For me it’s a dream come true,” he said. “There are a lot of young ones especially the islanders growing up loving the game so it’s exciting for me to be able to make it this far.
“The feeling is unexplainable. A lot of people have dreams but they hardly make it to what they love doing but for me it’s a blessing.”
The winger however knows he has a long way to go.
“Everyone in life goes through challenges and as for me it’s the challenges of not getting picked to play and things like that but nothing major,” he said.
“[But] on the other hand I think I have had more blessings in my life than challenges.”
So what is his biggest goal?
“At the moment my biggest goal is to play international rugby and play in the World Cup,” he told the Sunday Samoan.
“Everyone that plays in New Zealand all want to wear the black jersey but for me I’m not really thinking of playing for the All Blacks or Manu Samoa. I just keep playing Super Rugby and to see where that gets me.”
“At the moment I’m training with the All Blacks. It feels good practising with the guys that you see on TV. It’s exciting and talking. Seeing them nearly every day of the week is exciting.”
Nanai said his parents have always been his biggest supporters.
“For me what helped me the most was my parents. They advised me and taught me what to do and what not to do.
“I have always been with my parents. I’ve never really stayed away unlike some kids that when they reach 18 years old they leave home but for me I’m still with them. They are also my biggest motivation.”
The Samoan culture also played a huge role in his upbringing.
“Culture plays a big role in my life,” he said. “That’s what helped the most, it’s the culture and growing up in a strict family with strict parents. It makes it hard to stray away from being a Samoan and growing up in that kind of strictness becomes a normal thing.
“I know when other kids see it they think its strictness but for us as Samoan kids it’s how we live. And that really helps me every day.”