October 9, 2019 / 6:50 AM / 9 months ago

Tonga hooker Maile basks in unexpected World Cup experience

OSAKA, Japan (Reuters) - Tonga hooker Siua Maile will struggle to keep his feet on the ground after his World Cup experience, especially since his only plan at present is to return to his job as a roofer in New Zealand.

Maile was a surprise selection by Tonga coach Toutai Kefu as the third-string hooker for the World Cup squad, given he was only playing amateur club rugby in Christchurch.

He made his test debut against the All Blacks on Sept. 7 before coming off the bench in Tonga’s Pool C opener in Sapporo against England. He will play against the United States in their final game on Sunday with Sosefo Sakalia out with a knee injury.

Maile admitted on Wednesday that he was unsure if he might have done enough to pique the interest of professional clubs.

“I don’t know what’s happening yet. I need a bit of a rest, but the job’s still there,” he told reporters in Osaka on Wednesday. “This is the biggest stage in rugby, though, and hopefully things will come my way.”

Maile’s rise from obscurity was thanks to video clips of his play on social media, although Tonga scrum coach Dan Cron said before the tournament that they still had no idea who to look for when they met him at Auckland airport.

The reaction was similar for the 22-year-old.

“I didn’t know anyone and they didn’t know me when I was first called into the squad,” he said.

“(But) everyone has been great. Some of the boys I’ve always looked up to as heroes – I’ve been watching Nasi (Manu) since I was little.”

Maile said the nerves that had affected him before his test debut against the All Blacks had largely disappeared by the time Tonga played their opener against England.

“I was looking forward to it and was pretty relaxed,” he said of the game at the Sapporo Dome. “I wasn’t as bad as before the warm-up game against the All Blacks.

“I was a little bit nervous then, but once I was playing it was not too bad and I got a bit of confidence from that.”

With both sides out of contention for the knockout phase he was just looking forward to playing the Eagles in Osaka and possibly delaying going back up the ladder again.

“It’s another opportunity,” he said. “I’m just trying to do my thing.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Shizuoka, Japan; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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