Josh Ioane could well be the playmaker who slipped through the Warriors’ fingers.
The All Blacks No 10 is now firmly ensconced in rugby – his deal with New Zealand Rugby and the Highlanders runs for another two years – but he has revealed that as a boy growing up in Auckland the Warriors were his first love and he was inspired by Sonny Bill Williams’ exploits in the NRL.
“Growing up I was a big leaguie, a big Warriors fan,” Ioane told the Department of Conversation podcast.
“It wasn’t until I went to high school that I really started getting into rugby.
“Before that when I was younger there was a lot of Warriors games at the weekend.”
Ioane was a schoolboy star for King’s College and after excelling there, he was named in the Blues under-18 schools team.
But despite his obvious talent, and affinity for league as a boy, there were no approaches from the code he admits he still enjoys today.
“There was a bit of interest, but there was nothing that was ever confirmed or sound,” Ioane said.
Unsurprisingly, there was one player in the NRL who made an impression on the young Ioane, someone he would later meet as an All Black.
“Growing up I started off in league so I definitely saw a lot of Sonny Bill in his younger days,” Ioane said.
“What I like about him is his mindset and his attitude towards the game. He’s a real professional and I admire that.”
Ioane has a skillset that would flourish in either code. He loves to take the ball to the line on attack and is well regarded by the Highlanders’ coaches for his toughness on defence.
He also has a sharp short kicking game and his goalkicking has improved significantly over the past two years. Those attributes mean Ioane would be highly valued in the league market but his future appears to be in rugby.
Ioane said his shift to Dunedin to take up a contract at the Otago Academy and his progression to the Highlanders were driven by two factors: his desire to stand on his own two feet and his parents’ insistence that he also looked after his education.
“Coming to Otago, there was a university here and that was non-negotable for my parents, and also the Otago Academy,” Ioane said. It seemed just like a win-win.
“And I was real keen to get out of the house and be independent.”
The significant role his parents play in his life (“Really huge. Mum and Dad have been pushing me since I was young”) made his All Blacks debut even more poignant.
His mother had travelled to Argentina only to see Ioane stuck on the bench for 80 minutes and couldn’t make the trip to Hamilton for his debut against Tonga test.
“My Mum got emotional [after the Tonga test} and apparently my Dad did,” Ioane said. “He’s not one to show it but I hear he did.
“It was sad for Mum because she flew all the way to Argie to watch the game and obviously I didn’t play and then wasn’t able to make it to the Hamilton game
“That was a shame but she was real proud.”
Ioane missed out on the All Blacks’ 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup but has maintained some strong form for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup, in the knowledge that a callup to Japan could only be one injury away.
This content was originally published here.