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Northern United: Buxton Popoalii

?Buxton Popoalii started and finished the 2010 club season with a bang - scoring a hat trick in the season opener against defending champions MSP and then scoring two tries in the Jubilee Cup final at Westpac Stadium. His two tries in the Cup final helped Norths out to a match winning 19-0 lead over Poneke and they held on to win in style. In between, he cut merry capers through most of the opposition he faced and set a new single season Wellington Senior club rugby try scoring record with 23 tries in 19 games, during which time he made 16 consecutive starts at fullback for Norths. His try scoring tally comprised two hat tricks and one four try haul and he scored 18 of his tries in 11 Swindale Shield games.

Former Wellington schoolboy star Popoalii was an exciting addition to the 2008 Vodafone Wellington Lions Squad in his first season in Senior rugby. The electric 18-year old fullback had fought back from adversity to be the one of the most promising attacking talents around, having undergone serious heart surgery two years ago. Popoali'i is lightning quick, fast on his feet, has an educated kicking game. He joined Norths in 2008 and quickly made his mark in Wellington club rugby, running in seven tries in his first 11 games and scoring 46 points in his first five games. A member of the Wellington Rugby Academy, he also scored a try in his first match for the Wellington XV against Wairarapa Bush and also finished off a length of the field try for the Vodafone Wellington Lions in a pre-season match against Otago on his home ground of Porirua Park.

Popoalii, who had heart valve replacement surgery in 2006, was the star of the dominant 2007 Wellington College first XV and Hurricanes U18 Schools team that won the regional schools title and subsequently toured Australia with the New Zealand Schools side in September. He scored 22 tries for his school, scoring 44 points in one match alone, and finished the season as the top college points scorer in the country.

Buxton changed his surname from Letulava early in his career. His Club Weekly record prior to his name change can be found here:

http://www.clubrugby.co.nz/wellington/clubs-teams-people.php?person_id=1653

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?September 2008: Buxton Popoalii, the youngest member of the 2008 Vodafone Wellington Lions, presents a relaxed figure at the team's Newtown base after training, proudly recalling the day he scored eight tries on Eden Park.

He says he was only six at the time and it was a in a junior curtain raiser game before a Super 12 match between the Blues and the Sharks, but he rates this as one of his proudest achievements on the rugby field
so far, as he explains.

"The game was played between the tryline and the 22 and most of the eight tries I scored were runaway tries.

"Every time they kicked it I would get it and they would all miss me and I would score. So I will never forget that moment, it was my first time at Eden Park, and I then got to see Carlos Spencer play who was the
player I most looked up to."

Fast forward more than a decade to last Saturday night and Popoalii fulfilled his dream to return to Eden Park as a professional rugby player, playing a full game on the right wing in the Lions' triumphant 27-0 Ranfurly Shield victory over Auckland.

In winning the coveted log 'o wood aged just 18, Popoalii has achieved what many New Zealand provincial rugby players, past and present, only dream about. But for all that, the specialist fullback and former schoolboy star has his feet firmly planted on the ground, humble and unaffected by much of the hype that is surrounding him.

Popoalii made his mark last year as the star of the Wellington College
first XV and Hurricanes U18 Schools team that won the regional schools
title. He scored 22 tries for his school, scoring 44 points in one match
alone, and finished the season as the top college points scorer in the
country. He was duly selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools
team to tour Australia but was forced to withdraw with a knee injury.

Brought into the Wellington Lions team for the Air New Zealand Cup after receiving a special New Zealand Rugby Union dispensation because of his age, he quickly impressed. He played the entire second half as a substitute for Cory Jane inWellington's narrow week two 30-27 win over North Harbour. In week three against Counties-Manukau he also came off the bench to play fullback forthe final 30 minutes, impressing with ball in hand and also on defencewhere he made two separate try saving tackles including a bootlace effort in front of his goalposts. It's this kind of commitment that has quickly seen Wellington rugby fans
turn their heads and earn him the respect of his teammates who he looks up to, as he says:

"I love playing and learning alongside all the older guys in the team
It's really an honour listening to those guys because I used to watch
them when I was little and now I'm playing with them so it's pretty
cool."

For their part, they were quick to give him his new nickname too.

"They call me Simba because in the Lion King, Simba was the youngest and
most of the other guys are Mofusa, the father. So as the youngest I am
Simba."

Popoalii is one of a handful of new ANZC players who this time last year
were at school, such as Counties fullback Tim Nanai-Williams and
Southland winger Robert Robinson, and follows in the footsteps of other
recent young stars such as Hawke's Bay's Zac Guildford and Manawatu's
Andre Taylor.

The Wellington Rugby Football Union sought and gained his dispensation from the NZRU to play in the competition. The NZRU can grant youngplayers a certain number of games depending on their physicaldevelopment, maturity, position and experience and Popoalii says that he's just been concentrating hard on his own game and working hard with the coaches and players to improve.

"At the start of the season I knew I could play five full games and five half games, so I can play in all the games, but it's just been a matter of trying to make the 22."

Popoalii grew up in Auckland and moved to Wellington when he was twelve.

"I'm an Auckland boy. I was born in Auckland in Mangere and moved to
Wellington in 2003 and attended Brandon Intermediate in Porirua and then
went straight to Wellington College."

Taking after Carlos Spencer, he grew up playing first five-eighth before
switching to fullback in sixth form in 2006, the year he first made the
Wellington College first fifteen.

Earlier that same year he had heart valve replacement surgery, an
operation he says he had been on the waiting list for a couple of years.

He joined the champion Northern United club at the start of 2008, and
quickly stamped his mark in Wellington club rugby, running in seven tries
in his first 11 games and scoring 46 points in his first five games. He
capped off his first club season by scoring two tries for Norths in the
Jubilee Cup semi-final against Petone, the second of these a
breathtaking backline injection from a midfield scrum that had both sets
of supporters cheering loudly from the packed Petone Recreation Ground
stand.

A member of the Wellington Rugby Academy, he also scored a try in his
first match for the Wellington XV against Wairarapa Bush and also
finished off a length of the field try for the Vodafone Wellington Lions
in a pre-season match against Otago on his home ground of Porirua Park.

Asked to explain the difference in intensity and the fewer opportunities
from these games to the standard in the Air New Zealand Cup, he says
it's all about developing an all-round game and keeping a cool head.

"I try to balance everything more. The contact at this level is all
against guys who are bigger than me. I am trying to get stronger and
bigger, and for me now it is about working on all the little stuff that
I need to work on.

"It's all about knowing your players as well, if you don't know much
about your players then you don't know how to score the tries or how to
run off them so that's important.

Unsurprisingly, Another former player he looks up to is Christian
Cullen."

"He used to run the lines that I am trying to get to as well, just
running the holes and running into the gaps and with speed."

With players such as Cullen and Spencer as his inspiration, Popoalii has
a big future.

April 2011:? Popoalii is currently with the New Zealand Sevens Team, having transferred south to Otago following his record breaking 2010 Wellington club season.

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Results from games played:
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Date Competition Rnd Pos Team 1 Score 1 Team 2 Score 2 T C P DG Pts
2010-08-15 Jubilee Cup Premier 9 15 Norths: Premier 24 Poneke: Premier 5 2 0 0 0 10
2010-07-31 Jubilee Cup Premier 7 15 Norths: Premier 51 OBU: Premier 33 1 4 1 0 16
2010-07-24 Jubilee Cup Premier 6 255 Norths: Premier 23 Upper Hutt: Premier 23 0 1 2 0 8
2010-07-17 Jubilee Cup Premier 5 15 Norths: Premier 20 Marist St Pats: Premier 3 0 0 0 0 0
2010-07-10 Jubilee Cup Premier 4 15 Norths: Premier 23 HOBM: Premier 23 0 0 0 0 0
2010-07-03 Jubilee Cup Premier 3 15 Norths: Premier 34 Petone: Premier 20 0 0 0 0 0
2010-06-26 Jubilee Cup Premier 2 15 Norths: Premier 15 Poneke: Premier 17 0 0 0 0 0
2010-06-19 Jubilee Cup Premier 1 15 Norths: Premier 45 Ories: Premier 23 2 0 0 1 13
2010-06-12 Swindale Shield 11 15 Norths: Premier 34 Poneke: Premier 18 1 0 0 0 5
2010-06-05 Swindale Shield 10 15 Norths: Premier 31 Ories: Premier 26 1 0 0 0 5
2010-05-29 Swindale Shield 9 15 Norths: Premier 46 HOBM: Premier 29 0 0 0 0 0
2010-05-22 Swindale Shield 8 15 Norths: Premier 59 J'ville: Premier 10 4 0 0 0 20
2010-05-15 Swindale Shield 7 15 Norths: Premier 58 Tawa: Premier 29 2 0 0 0 10
2010-05-08 Swindale Shield 6 15 Norths: Premier 54 OBU: Premier 7 1 0 0 0 5
2010-05-01 Swindale Shield 5 15 Norths: Premier 13 Petone: Premier 8 0 0 0 0 0
2010-04-24 Swindale Shield 4 15 Norths: Premier 43 Wainui: Premier 22 1 0 0 0 5
2010-04-17 Swindale Shield 3 15 Norths: Premier 72 Wests: Premier 6 3 0 0 0 15
2010-04-10 Swindale Shield 2 15 Norths: Premier 82 Upper Hutt: Premier 16 2 0 0 0 10
2010-04-03 Swindale Shield 1 15 Norths: Premier 54 Marist St Pats: Premier 26 3 0 0 0 15
2009-07-11 Jubilee Cup Premier 5 255 Norths: Premier 12 Marist St Pats: Premier 19 2 1 0 0 12
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