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Wednesday 23 February 2011 | Published in Regional

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Aitutaki rugby league star Nga Simiona is set to embark on a life changing experience next month when he leaves for Australia to play for Tuggeranong Valley Bushrangers – a feeder club for the Canberra Raiders.

Playing for the Bushrangers will be Nga’s first step to stardom abroad.

All going well, he could become the second Aitutakian to play for a premier Australian league club. The first, Victor Ioane, left two years ago to play for the Bulldogs.

Nga, 19, is 183cm tall, weighs 96kg, and is a graduate of the Cook Islands Sports Academy. He gives credit to his tremendous support team, mum Lani Simiona and his two co-mums, Karlie Tuimavave and Shelley Phillimore. The three ‘mums’ are also his most avid fans.

“I thank CISA, without that programme my son wouldn’t have gotten this far,” says Lani, who also acknowledges the positive influence coach Junior Tamati has had on her son’s life. “I really take my hat off to him, he’s got time for the young ones, he pushes them through and he’s been really wonderful.”

Both Simiona’s children were born and raised in Aitutaki. She says all her four younger sisters who live in New Zealand are thankful that both her children remain in Aitutaki.

“My 16-year old nephew in New Zealand is going to be a dad for the second time – the life that my nieces and nephews have is so hard for my sisters to cope with because they’re all children having children.”

Meanwhile, the two island siblings have travelled further than Simiona and all her sisters put together. “Being hard on them all these years has paid off.”

Nga says he found the CISA programme hard at first. “Even the academic side was hard, but I got a lot of encouragement from school mates and my coach and as the year went by the training became easier. I would really recommend it for other young people.”

Tuimavave says CISA provides young people who excel in sports rather than academic achievement the chance to pursue a career in sports, “and it reaches the kids discipline and respect for the rules”.

Nga has been offered a spot in the Cook Islands under 20 World Cup 2011 squad. He plays for the Aitutaki Sharks and last year featured strongly in the Tupapa Panthers sevens side.

His idol is league great turned boxer Sonny Bill Williams whom he met in New Zealand. “I went up and introduced myself and we had a bit of a chat and he gave me some tips about keeping fit and sticking to training.”

At present Nga has been sidelined after breaking his arm during league training seven weeks ago. Pointing to his cast, his mum says if he’d gone out and tested his new oe vaka paddle as she had asked, he wouldn’t be sitting frustrated on the sidelines watching the Sharks and Takuvaine draw in last Saturday’s match.

The young Aitutaki star grins and admits he just couldn’t help himself. “I’m just addicted to rugby.”