Sunday Star-Times

Bunty Afoa’s well-earned Warriors contract Goes to next level as Highlander­s soar

- David Long

Bunty Afoa will soon be offered a new contract by the Warriors, on the back of a superb start to the new NRL season.

It’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the 24-year-old, who was told last year that he was free to join another club.

That’s code for being told you’re not part of the team’s future and English Super League club St Helens were interested in picking him up.

However, Afoa, who is out of contract at the end of the year, decided to turn down St Helens and fight for his future at the Warriors, who he suits up for today against St George.

Usually when a player decides to stay after being told they’re free to go, they’ll spend the rest of their time at that club rotting in

reserve-grade footy. But Afoa instantly impressed new coach Nathan Brown, as well as recruitmen­t and retention manager Peter O’Sullivan.

Other players off contract at the end of the season are Leeson Ah Mau, Tom Ale, Josh Curran, Jackson Frei, Peta Hiku, Sean O’Sullivan, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey, Jazz Tevaga and Paul Turner.

Decisions on these players will be made over the course of the season, but the Sunday StarTimes can reveal that Afoa is top of the list of players the club want to re-sign.

There’s no guarantee that Afoa will sign the contract as his early season form has sparked the interest of other NRL clubs. However, Afoa has enjoyed his time at the Warriors and doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder about being told last year he didn’t have a future at the club.

However, Afoa has revealed that being told to look elsewhere, when at the time he was recovering from an ACL injury that ruled him out for the entire season, was tough to swallow.

‘‘I was a bit down in all honesty,’’ the rugged forward said.

‘‘I was going through my injury, I didn’t even have that in the back of my head about the club releasing me. Finding that out, it put a lot of pressure on me. I got a lot of messages from the boys, saying work hard and try to earn that spot again.

‘‘That gave me the motivation to push and I just believed in myself that I could push through.’’

Afoa recovered from his injury last year well away from the rest of the team. Usually an injured player will see his teammates around the gym or physios room.

But Afoa, along with Ah Mau, did their recoveries at Mt Smart Stadium, while the rest of the team spent the season in Australia.

‘‘Watching the games was the toughest moment for me,’’ he said. ‘‘But it’s part of the game, part of the journey in sports.’’

where I guess some of our other boys haven’t quite got there yet, they are fiddling and tinkering, and we can get a bit of a mixed performanc­e out of them.

‘‘But that guy knows his game in and out and he’s sticking with it.’’

Dixon has an All Blacks case himself – Clayton McMillan and Aaron Mauger have both said the Ma¯ori All Blacks captain was a touch unlucky not to be selected last year – but the loose forward area is a natural talking point because it is so competitiv­e.

Akira Ioane can probably be considered the incumbent at No 6, but Frizell, Luke Jacobson, Tom Robinson, Cullen Grace, Ethan Blackadder and perhaps even Dalton Papalii could be considered as options.

Frizell’s numbers are impressive as anyone’s. Even before Friday’s win against the Blues, he was carrying the ball more often than any other player in Super Rugby Aotearoa, while he was in the top-10 category for offloads and lineout wins.

The 27-year-old, who recently re-signed with the Highlander­s until 2023, also smacked Blues replacemen­t Harry Plummer with a great spot tackle at Forsyth Barr Stadium to force a crucial penalty with 15 minutes to go on Friday.

‘‘He’s taken it to a new level, hasn’t he?’’ Dixon said.

‘‘I thought tonight he was immense. He was defensivel­y sound, he carries the ball hard and his work rate is phenomenal.

‘‘He was playing three All Blacks’ loosies [Ioane, Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu] and he stood up really well.

‘‘For us he’s been massive. With Liam [Squire] sidelined someone had to step up and play some minutes and he’s been our go-to. We hope he continues and keeps preparing as well as he does.’’

Frizell started the All Blacks season in 2020 in the six jersey but didn’t take his chances as well as he would have liked.

 ??  ?? Bunty Afoa has been in fine form.
Bunty Afoa has been in fine form.
 ??  ?? Shannon Frizell in action on Friday.
Shannon Frizell in action on Friday.

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