An opportunity to train with Moana Pasifika kept young loose forward Niko Jones in Aotearoa when he was set to take an opportunity to play in America.
The son of All Blacks great, Sir Michael, was set to fly out to the USA to take up an offer in Major League Rugby early in January before the chance to join Moana Pasifika as injury cover came up shortly before Christmas.
“Things kind of fell into place to end up here, I didn’t expect it so it’s all come full circle,” the 21-year-old said.
Jones trained with the Blues the last two years but was forced to look overseas after his hometown Super team Auckland went with other loose forward options, including signing German-born Tasman flanker Anton Segner.
The late change comes after a frustrating run of injury since leading St Peters to the national schools’ title in 2018 in a run that featured a number of spectacular individual moments.
Despite the challenging start to his professional career, Jones was grateful what the last few years had taught him.
“It’s been a journey of rugby, injuries and not making all the teams, that’s a part of the game and if anything I’ve grown from it and I’m in a good place now,” he said.
“I’m feeling in really good shape physically and all those sorts of things.”
Jones was relishing the chance to learn off Wallabies veterans Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali'ifano, who signed on for Moana’s first season in Super Rugby.
Jones said all the Moana players had “a lot of admiration for those boys” despite many growing up in New Zealand as All Blacks supporters.
“The culture they bring, got a bit of an Aussie twist on it too…but they got those Pacific roots too, it’s awesome to see they did a lot of time over there but their culture and everything about them is Pasifika,” he said.
“I’m a bit in awe when I’m with them but to feel like I’m on the same level as well, they don’t seem like they’re higher than me or anything, they’re just one of the boys.”