Chiefs' new man Naitoa Ah Kuoi excited about future
After a rough start to the year, rugby lock, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, heads into exciting new territory in 2020 having achieved his main goal.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Ah Kuoi would be playing for the Chiefs in Super Rugby next year, and the 20-year-old is pretty stoked to pick up a contract in the highest level of club rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.
“It just seemed like the year was not going to be mine, but towards the end, things started going my way," said Ah Kuoi, who is from Vaiusu and Lotopa.
He tore his medial cruciate ligament at the start of the year, and was picked by the New Zealand Under 20s but sprained his ankle in the first five minutes of their game against Fiji in April, and missed the World Championship in June.
Ah Kuoi played the second half of the Wellington club season with Marist St Pat's, including some time in the Colts team.
“Lucky enough to get picked with the Lions, and just played good footy I guess," he said.
Ah Kuoi missed just one game of the Wellington Lions Mitre 10 Cup campaign, in which they made the Premiership final against Tasman.
It was presumably that form, on top of his existing talent and potential, that created interest at the next level.
“I was talking with my agent, and we had some options around different teams," Ah Kuoi said.
He decided the Hamilton-based Chiefs were best for his career, presenting a good opportunity to get out of Wellington, where Ah Kuoi has lived all his life.
“Especially with this year being a bit of an up-and-down season for me," he said.
“Starting fresh in another place with a great coach in Warren Gatland and his coaching staff, that was kind of exciting for me.
Also exciting is the prospect of becoming a father - Ah Kuoi's partner Kayla is due to have twins in May, with the Chiefs having found a place for the family-to-be.
It's a lot of change, and plenty of uncharted territory, but Ah Kuoi said he is more excited than nervous:
“The chance to be playing Super Rugby is awesome, having the opportunity to do a dream job that puts food on the table, and I can support my family is just so exciting for me."
A 196 centimetre frame means he's hard to miss anyway, but having the word "MUM" stuck to the front of his headgear helps Ah Kuoi stand out even more.
“I’ve had that since the last few years in college, I’ll probably keep that going if they let me," he said.
Ah Kuoi's parents are ever-present in the stands as well, and having travelled to all his Mitre 10 Cup games this year, he expects to see plenty of them up in Hamilton too:
“I think they want to come up even more just because we’re having children, and they wanna be a part of that."
Ah Kuoi is moving up later this month to start preseason training ahead of the Christmas break, while Kayla will be joining him in February.
By then the Super Rugby season will have begun, and he hopes to be on his way to the ultimate career goal; becoming an All Black.
“I’m not too sure when the All Black goal will become something that’s more realistic, but I am still pushing for it."
Ah Kuoi may have represented New Zealand, and wants to do so again in future, but he's also a proud Samoan:
“I’m Samoan, I’ve grown up being Samoan, my parents are Samoan and we do things the Samoan way.
“If the opportunity comes along where I don’t think that I’m a shot to play for the All Blacks then I would love to play for Samoa."