WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Three weeks ago Siua Maile was working on a roof battling with the chilly conditions of a Christchurch winter but on Saturday the hooker will make his test debut for Tonga against the All Blacks in a World Cup warm-up.
The 22-year-old Maile was a surprise callup into Tonga’s squad for the World Cup on Monday and was probably counting on spending a lot of his time in Japan holding tackle bags and staying ready in the hope he might get a test debut.
Injuries to Paula Ngauamo and Sosefo Sakalia, however, means that coach Toutai Kefu will throw Maile in at the deep end on Saturday against the world champions.
“I think he’s still a bit shocked but he’s taking it on well,” Kefu told reporters in Hamilton after he had named the team for the clash at Waikato Stadium.
“There’s not much we can do with two hookers out so we need to roll the dice.
“Three weeks ago he was nailing tin roofs to houses so this is a great opportunity for him.
“What a baptism of fire, he’s got a massive opportunity, got nothing to lose so he’s looking forward to it.”
Maile was the only uncapped player named to start against the All Blacks as Kefu picked his strongest possible side with flyhalf Kurt Morath and flanker Sione Kalamafoni brought back into the team.
Former Otago Highlanders captain Nasi Manu, who was cleared of testicular cancer earlier this year, is still recovering from a pectoral injury and aiming to be fit for Tonga’s first Pool C game against England on Sept. 22.
“I would have loved to play the All Blacks this week, but my dream has always been to (play) a World Cup, that dream is alive for me,” Manu told TVNZ.
“With my rehab going smoothly, I should be available for the first game.”
Tonga won just one game in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup, but gave a strong Fiji side some real trouble last week in Auckland and Kefu said he hoped to use that to build momentum against the All Blacks.
“It’s a massive challenge but I still believe we’re a chance of playing well and getting close,” the 1999 World Cup winner said.
“The All Blacks are the number one team in the world, so we’re under no illusions about that, but we’ve still got a chance regardless of how small that is.”
Tonga: 15-David Halaifonua, 14-Cooper Vuna, 13-Malietoa Hingano, 12-Siale Piutau, 11-Viliami Lolohea, 10-Kurt Morath, 9-Sonatane Takulua, 8-Maama Vaipulu, 7-Fotu Lokotui, 6-Sione Kalamafoni, 5-Leva Fifita, 4-Sam Lousi, 3-Siua Halanukonuka, 2-Siua Maile, 1-Siegfried Fisiihoi
Replacements: 16-Sione Anga’aelangi, 17-Vunipola Fifita, 18-Ma’afu Fia, 19-Dan Faleafa, 20-Zane Kapeli, 21-Leon Fukafuka, 22-James Faiva, 23-Atieli Pakalani
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ed Osmond/Nick Mulvenney