Rugby: Sopoaga eyes season with confidence

Lima Sopoaga defends against Tony Ensor at a Highlanders training session at Logan Park yesterday...
Lima Sopoaga defends against Tony Ensor at a Highlanders training session at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga has made a simple new year's resolution - to remain free of injury during the 2013 season.

''I just want to stay injury-free, build some confidence into my game and play a whole year of Super rugby and a whole year of ITM Cup,'' Sopoaga said yesterday.

''I want to repay the Highlanders coaching staff and management who have re-signed me.''

Sopoaga (21) has spent long periods on the sideline during the past two years and has only played nine games for the Highlanders.

In 2011, he missed eight games after injuring his right shoulder against the Chiefs. Last year, he fractured the left shoulder against the Waratahs and had permanent plates and screws put in. He was out of action for six months.

''The shoulder's perfect now and is back to full strength,'' Sopoaga said.

''It is almost as good as new.''

Sopoaga was full of expectations when he came into the Highlanders in 2011.

He had made a stellar debut for Wellington in the 2010 ITM Cup and was a member of the New Zealand team that beat England 33-22 in the final of the under-20 World Cup in Italy.

He played impressively in the early games for the Highlanders before he was hit by injuries.

''It's been pretty tough,'' Sopoaga acknowledged.

''I've only played nine games for the Highlanders in two seasons.

''I just want to stay injury-free in 2013 and hopefully, get more games under my belt. But I guess injuries are part of the job and I've just got to get used to it.

''You have to take the good ... I no longer take rugby for granted. I look forward to coming to training and doing the work.

''I've had some dark days and tough times but I've learned a heck of a lot.''

His surgeon told him it was just an unlucky injury last year and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph let Sopoaga go home to Wellington after the injury and he spent 10 weeks away from Dunedin.

''I was able to spend time with my family and with my partner, Jessica Allan.

''I went to Aussie to see my brother and some of my best mates in Sydney and on the Gold Coast.''

Sopoaga's brother, Tupou, plays rugby league for the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL. But Sopoaga was not tempted to switch to league.

''I've always been a rugby kid.

''My brother decided to try something new.''

Sopoaga started rugby again in September when he came off the bench for Wellington against Waikato during the ITM Cup. He injured his ankle and missed the Otago game at Forsyth Barr Stadium. He had a few niggles but carried on playing for the rest of the season.

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