Iziq Foa’i admits he feels “so close” to realising his dream of becoming a professional rugby league player following a successful trial with Super League side Warrington Wolves.
The uniquely gifted New Zealander, who combines a battering ram physical presence with feather-touch handling skills, is heading back to the UK to chase a professional career in league.
The club have offered him a chance to join up with their Under-19s team to finish the 2015 season in the north west of England.
Although the future remains uncertain, with the 19-year-old using university and a degree in sports marketing or management as a secondary option should his rugby dream not come true, Foa’i is driven by positive comments from Wolves’ head coach Tony Smith and club legend Lee Briers, both of whom spoke glowingly of the teenager during his trial.
“The club offered me the chance to come back after my exams, they’re keen to have me for the rest of the U-19’s season,” said Foa’i, whose absence will be a big miss for Abu Dhabi Harlequins this season.
“My ultimate goal is a first team contract and a career in rugby league.”
This was the latest in a series of trips to the UK the Kiwi has made over the last few years, having trained previously with Harlequins and St Helens, but Foa’i believes his Warrington trial was “make or break”.
“This is the closest I’ve come to going pro,” said Foa’i.
“I heard lots of positive things from the coaches. They were really impressed so that’s a big thing for me.”
"I’m determined to grab this opportunity with both hands and will try to make the most of it. I really want this to happen, it feels so close.”
Having had a taste of international rugby on the UAE’s Asia Rugby Championship tour to Malaysia earlier this year, Jebel Ali Dragons full-back Ryno Fourie admits he’s hungry for more.
In the wake of the UAE failing to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Chennai in March, national team head coach Roelof Kotze has decided to reintroduce expatriates to the sevens fold. South African Fourie is one of those and has been training at 7he Sevens this week ahead of the Asian Sevens Series in September and October.
The 33-year-old has been living in the Emirates for a decade and previously represented the Arabian Gulf. He says it would be an “honour” to be involved with the UAE sevens squad in the upcoming tournaments in Shanghai and Colombo.
"It will be another honour for me to play for the national sevens side" – Fourie
“I played when I was a youngster for the Arabian Gulf and it’s nice to be back involved,” said Fourie.
“It’s an accomplishment for me to have been part of the UAE for so long. It will be another honour for me to play for the national sevens side. I hope I can represent them in the next tournament and make them proud.”
Fourie was among familiar faces in Malaysia, Dragons’ team-mates Niall Statham, Adam Telford, Andrew Carphin, Daniel Minks, Michael Botha and Paul Hart all part of a UAE team that recorded wins over Thailand and Chinese Taipei but fell short of winning promotion to Division I following a 20-19 loss to hosts Malaysia.
Fourie revealed a lot of the players on tour expressed a desire to become more involved.
“We said in Malaysia that we would like to get involved with the sevens. I know a lot of the other senior 15 boys are keen to get
involved. In Malaysia we came close and we want to give it a go in sevens too,” said Fourie.
The senior UAE players returned to training last night, ahead of the Shanghai 7s (September 5-6) and Colombo 7s (October 10-11).
The Under-20s have already been training for a few weeks ahead of two tournaments in Malaysia and Hong Kong between August 15-16 and 21-22 respectively.
Despite expats being brought back in by Kotze, compatriot Fourie has been impressed by what he’s seen from his Emirati colleagues at UAE training.
“From what I can see, they’re switched on and I think we have a good enough team to finish inside the top two or three (at Shanghai in September).
“As for the U-20s, I think what Roelof’s done is a good thing. I’ve watched some of their games on film and from where they were up to now there’s been a big improvement.
“We train with them and can see they’re really stepping up. I think they’ll hit the tournament and I hope they’ll come back with a few wins.”
Australian Michael Hooper’s one-week suspension for a striking offence is confirmed, allowing the Wallabies to select the flanker for a crucial showdown against New Zealand.
— Wallabies (@Wallabies) July 30, 2015
The 23-year-old was found last week to have struck Argentinian player Nicolas Sanchez in the 59th minute of a match on July 25 in Mendoza in the Rugby Championship and was suspended until August 1.
Super Rugby organisers SANZAR appealed the decision, saying it was too lenient, while the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) appealed on the basis that the ban was made in error.
But a SANZAR Appeals Committee maintained the week-long suspension as it dismissed both appeals.
The ban ruled Hooper out of a domestic game with Manly on Saturday but not the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks on August 8 in Sydney.
“Glad it’s wrapped up and I can really look forward to this week and moving forward into the first Bledisloe,” Hooper said in comments published by the ARU.
“It’s been a little bit tough but I have been preparing as if I’ve been right to play and I’ll be trying to get into the team for this week.”