Michael Lealava'a famously caused the early postponement of a match when he tackled Matt Procter so heavily the former was injured and couldn't be moved quickly from the field.
Peter Umaga-Jensen witnessed the incident and frequently reminds Lealava'a of his awe.
The rookie Hurricane and the veteran Wainuiomata midfielder share a lot in common. Lealava'a was once a prodigy himself, but a combination of ill-discipline off the paddock and untimely injuries prevented a longer professional career.
In 2005 at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, Lealava'a was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools while in Year 12. He was in the same squad as future All Black captain Sam Whitelock.
“I missed the first day of a three day camp because I was suspended from school,” Lealava’a rues.
“I was passing a rugby ball in class when the relief teacher walked in and I hit him in the head. My attendance record wasn’t too flash either and I got suspended for a couple of days. I wasn't the most popular player in the NZ Schools,” he continues.
Excluded from the New Zealand Schools the following year, Lealava'a was good enough to earn selection for the New Zealand Under-19 squad in 2006, but injury struck when he damaged a meniscus in his knee.
Lealava’a debuted for Wellington aged 21 and appeared on 10 occasions for the Lions, never quite cracking it at the top level. A broken arm and ongoing knee and shoulders issues were a hindrance, but with the benefit of hindsight what would Lealava’a tell any up and coming player in his position today?
“Stay out of trouble and hang out with the right crowd. I mixed with the wrong crowd and made some poor choices. You’ve got to rise above peer pressure and associate with like-minded people. Peter is switched on. He won’t make those mistakes,” Lealava'a responded.
It’s 2007 and Wainuiomata are in disarray. The coaching staff depart mid-season - essentially leaving Wellington Academy members Lealava'a and Genesis Mamea in charge.
“Genesis and I were in the Academy and were learning some great stuff from Jamie Joseph, which we were taking back to Wainui. We managed to win the Hardham Cup which was a great effort, but I still had a lot of learning to do and left at the end of the season,” Lealava'a recalls.
A Swindale Shield triumph at Petone in 2009 attracted interest from Tasman and Lealava'a worked with former All Black Leon MacDonald for a brief period, managing 19 appearances on loan to Buller, but home always beckoned.
In the 2018 Swindale Shield, Lealava’a reached a century of games for Wainuiomata. He was an integral member of the Wainuiomata teams who reached the Jubilee Cup semi-finals for the only time in 2014 and 2016. He has scored 37 tries in senior rugby.
“My 100th game was against Tawa and it didn’t go so well. We got smoked, but it was a great honour to get to a hundred. The highlights of my time at Wainui have been the mates I have made and getting into the Jubilee Cup final in 2014. I was injured for that game, but it was a great thing for the club and community,” Lealava’a enthuses.
Justin Va’a, Greg Lealofi, Uale Mai, Cameron Ross and Tau Mamea, over 500 senior games of experience, were all lost to Wainuiomata at the start of the season. The former three have returned to play out of necessity. Does Lealava'a feel like he has returned to the default teacher position of 2007 again?
“A little bit, but it's different. I'm a senior player now so it's my job to help the younger guys out as much as I can. The other difference is we have good coaches this year as opposed to 2007,” Lealava’a answered.
Wainuiomata lost seven games by less than 10 points in the Swindale Shield to drop to the Hardham Cup for the first time since 2010. Has the club leaned too much on experience and failed to build depth for the future?
“I think we could have done more to build depth, but we've got some good young talent coming through and if these guys stick together Wainui will be strong again,” Lealava’a warns.
Guys like Justin, Greg and myself are going to stick around as long as we can to help out,” Lealava’a continued.
With two rounds left in the round robin of the Hardham Cup, Wainuiomata are unbeaten and at the top of the table. A win this Saturday against Johnsonville will secure first place and a home semi-final.
“With a round left in the Swindale Shield we had a crisis meeting and set some new goals for the season. We've had them before, a bit of an honesty session to clear the air and rid some frustration. We're happier with how were tracking. It's important for us to end the season on a good note,” Lealava'a reveals.
Who does Lealava’a believe will win the Jubilee Cup?
"I hope Norths win it. They have been in the same situation as us going down for a Hardham Cup reality check. They have played some great rugby and are from sim lat backgrounds to us," Lealava’a concludes.
Lealava'a has three daughters aged five, four and two. He is presently employed by Leslie Drain Clearing run by former Scottish International Martin Leslie.