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Sopoaga signed for the Highlanders in his first year out of Wellington College after playing for New Zealand Schools in 2009. The oldest of six children, he arrived in the South in 2011, having just turned 20, and worked in a photocopying store.
That year he was a member of the New Zealand colts side which swept all before it at the world junior championships — 16 of the 26 players went on to play international rugby.
The first five-eighth made his debut for the Highlanders in the first game of coach Jamie Joseph’s reign and the side beat the Hurricanes 14-9, Sopoaga scoring the only try in the game.
However, he was hauled off the next game after a poor 40 minutes against the Chiefs. He played four more games for the Highlanders that year but others were preferred.
The next year in 2012 Sopoaga played the first three games but injured his shoulder and was gone for the year.
There was plenty of excitement when the Highlanders started the 2013 season. Big names, experience, a good draw — it looked like it was going to happen. It never did.
Sopoaga started against the Cheetahs in Invercargill in the second game of the season but was pulled from the game three minutes before the halftime after a forgettable performance.
He made five appearances off the bench after that but did not start another game that season.
Come 2014, Colin Slade had left while Hayden Parker was waiting in the wings. It was now or never for Sopoaga after three middling seasons. He took the chance and ran with it. With Tony Brown coming on board, Sopoaga’s game and his goal-kicking became way more accurate.
He set a points-scoring record for the season with 178 points, breaking Brown’s record of 150.
As 2015 rolled around there was a hint of excitement in the Highlanders ranks. Sopoaga broke his own points-scoring record with a tally of 191 points for the Highlanders as he started all but one game, helping the Highlanders to the title.
He made his All Black debut and played a composed 80 minutes as the All Blacks beat South Africa at Ellis Park.
The next year, he again missed only one game for the Highlanders and finished just five points short of his points-scoring record as the Highlanders made it to the semifinals.
A contrasting season in 2017 for Sopoaga. Became a father, but a hamstring injury forced him out for eight weeks and he started half a dozen games all up for the season. Had a tough night at the office for the All Blacks in a Bledisloe Cup loss in Brisbane.
End of time
It caught most on the hop when Sopoaga announced in January this season would be his last in New Zealand. A big-money offer from Wasps was too good to turn down. He has been a mixed bag for the Highlanders — shone in a few matches but has been off the pace in the past couple of games.
When he runs out on Forsyth Barr Stadium tonight he will be the only player in the Highlanders to have started every game this season, and will be playing his 91st game in the jersey.
He has scored 840 points for the Highlanders and is just 17 points short of Tony Brown’s career record. He has a maximum of four games left. Step right up ...
Highlanders games: 90 (includes two non Super Rugby games)
All Black caps: 16 tests (plus two matches)
All Black points: 55 (plus six in non tests)
Highlanders points: 840 (15 scored in non Super Rugby games)
FB Stadium, 5.15pm today
Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Liam Squire, James Lentjes (captain), Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Alex Ainley, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Aki Seuili. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Kalolo Tuiloma, Tom Franklin, Dillon Hunt, Josh Renton, Matt Faddes, Josh McKay.
Rebels: Jack Maddocks, Sefa Naivalu, Tom English (captain), Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, Michael Ruru, Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga’a, Angus Cottrell, Ross Haylett-Petty, Matt Philip, Sam Talakai, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga. Reserves: Nathan Charles, Tetera Faulkner, Jermaine Ainsley, Sam Jeffries, Richard Hardwick, Harrison Goddard, Jack Debreczeni, Lopeti Timani.
Referee: Glen Jackson