Basketball to Super Rugby

IT’S been quite a leap to Super Rugby for former Fijian basketball international Pita Gus Sowakula.

Sowakula was the latest Chiefs debutant called up to their squad as injury cover and he was thrust into action 66 minutes into their 27-22 victory over the Highlanders in Hamilton last Friday, March 30.

When replacing Liam Messam, the 23-year-old loose forward realised a dream that has gathered momentum ever since leaving Fiji for New Zealand when his agent brokered a deal with Taranaki Rugby to place him in the union’s academy at the end of the 2016 club rugby season.

An impressive season with Spotswood United followed, then Chiefs coach Colin Cooper signed him up when leading Taranaki’s Mitre 10 Cup campaign last year, and Sowakula was last week named on the bench against the Highlanders as cover at lock.

The Chiefs’ only fit specialist locks are Brodie Retallick and Tyler Ardron and Sowakula was only converted from a winger to a forward when arriving in Taranaki in 2016.

And Sowakula made his Chiefs debut less than two years after dropping basketball to focus on rugby.

Now weighing over 110kg and standing at 1.95m tall, the former basketball centre is living in Hamilton with two young members of the Chiefs squad — halfback Jonathan Taumateine and centre Bailyn Sullivan — after impressing then Taranaki coach Cooper during last season’s national provincial championship.

Sowakula was named the most promising player at the Taranaki Rugby awards in 2017 – two years after claiming a silver medal in basketball with Fiji at the 2015 Pacific Games.

“My dream was to play Super Rugby but I was just aiming to try Mitre 10 Cup and then do well,” the softly spoken Sowakula said.

“I feel happy and grateful to get that opportunity. It doesn’t matter whether I play in the back or the forwards as long as I get game time.”

So if the Chiefs suffer a similar injury crisis with wingers as they have done with locks — Dominic Bird, Mitchell Brown and Fin Hoeata are all out for the season and Michael Allardice (groin) is not at match fitness — then Sowakula would probably be happy to raise his hand to play out wide.