By Elliot Raiter
Onehunga Havili Kaufusi didn’t take the easy path to reach his Vodafone Super Rugby debut, he earned it. After being groomed in the Future Force Foundation for two seasons and consistently performing for the Perth Spirit, the backrower found himself on the field at GIO Stadium, with the sky now the limit.
In the 75th minute with the game on the line against the Brumbies, Kaufusi replaced Brynard Stander, and while the Road Safety Western Force ultimately went down, the experience proved invaluable for the Tongan-born back rower.
In the process, Kaufusi reached his season-long goal of playing in the Force side, with nerves and expectation nearly getting the better of the Palmyra product.
“Yeah I was nervous at the start when I knew I was going to play, towards the end of the game I was just happy to be there,” Havili said.
“One of my goals at the start of the year was to play Super Rugby and I made it, so really happy.”
Kaufusi drew on advice from a current Qantas Wallaby before his run-on debut, with Tatafu Polota-Nau giving him a simple message on the eve of Friday’s fixture.
“I was rooming with Taf, we actually sat in the room and he was just telling me not to overthink the game,” he explained.
“He told me to just go and do what you are capable of, giving me plenty of encouragement to go and play the game I love.”
Kaufusi became the fourth Future Force Foundation product to make their debut with the senior team, joining the likes of Richard Hardwick, Harry Scoble and Kane Koteka, as graduates from the program.
“Coming through the Future Force Program has really helped me for Super Rugby, it is a really good rugby path,” he mentioned.
“It has been really good for my development, it’s such an important pathway.”
The Auckland-schooled prodigy has modelled his game around the current New Zealand skipper, describing his style of game as something that he looks up to.
“When I was still at school Kieran Read was someone I watched closely,” he remembered.
“I always try and compare myself to him, see what he does and how I can use that.”
Kaufusi credits the Western Force Chief Executive Officer as his greatest influence since arriving in Perth, with his close mentoring and guidance a key motive behind his sudden rise.
“When I came here Mark Sinderberry was great,” he said.
“I stayed with him for about a year and a half. He helped me stay on the right path with training and things.
“I think he is the reason behind why I am so focused this year and why I played my first game.
“I struggled at times last year and ‘Sinders’ was really good for that.”
Kaufusi has decided to dream big for the remainder of the season, with consistent Super Rugby appearances and a more professional approach towards club rugby vital to his continual rise.
“At the start of the year my goal was to play Super Rugby and now I have played my goal is to try and play as many Super rugby games as I can,” he said.
“Playing for Palmyra, I am going to try and bring the same mentality to when I play Super Rugby to club rugby, that is something I need to work on.”