The Chiefs are facing some uphill battles in the new Super Rugby season, but for some young players there are even tougher challenges at home.
Photo: © Copyright Jeremy Ward / www.photosport.nz Photosport Ltd 2020
20-year-old lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi has welcomed twins during the lockdown, so there was no sidestepping the drills and chores and very little time to put his feet up.
But luckily for Ah Kuoi his supportive team say family comes first, and he’s been able to turn to fellow players for much-needed advice.
“It’s a different life to what I was living a few months back haha. But I’m loving it, I really love it. During lockdown it was really good, just being a full-time father, but once the rugby came back it was a lot more challenging.”
Those challenges usually revolve around a lack of rest for Ah Kuoi and his partner Kayla.
“I remember coming into training and I’d had about four hours sleep and I was so incredibly tired.”
But he’s in good company at the Chiefs – team-mate Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi became a dad for the first time at just 17.
“My little boy Thomas is seven now and I had him a week before my 18th birthday. It was pretty tough at times as I was young and didn’t have anything planned for the future. Looking back in hindsight I think I’ve done a pretty good job and that’s just due to the support I have from my whanau and my beautiful wife, Keeley. She’s taken the majority of the load and without her I don’t know how I’d be where I am.”
Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz
And he credits his dad, Paerata, for setting an example for him to follow.
“I’ve not seen many men, even the boys in this team, have the strength of relationship that I have with my dad and have such strong father figures like I had. He raised me really well, my whole family, my mum and relatives as well deserve credit. What they taught me is pretty much what I’m trying to teach my son now and I hope he can teach his kids the same thing one day. It’s about being present with your kids and enjoying that moment with your child and showing them that at the end of the day it’s all about loving, caring for others and being kind.”
Tahuriorangi, of Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Whakaue descent, says being part of the Chiefs whānau has been a good support, as it really does take a village to raise a child.
“When you’re in this Chiefs environment you feel it’s a very family orientated club. Our coaches are pretty lenient if you have a situation with your family you need to attend to, you can leave training and go home and be with them.”
Ah Kuoi, who has Samoan heritage, says the Chiefs understand that putting families first will ultimately get the best out of players.
“First week of pre-season I got back after lockdown they sent me home on the Friday because I was coming in with a big lack of sleep. They were just saying, go home get some rest and look after yourself, your partner and babies. They’re [Chiefs] are very family friendly club, the coaches know that if you’re all good at home and your family is all good, then you can come in and give your best at work and vice versa if you’re struggling with things at home.”
And while Ah Kuoi has plenty of team-mates happy to dish out parenting tips, another Chiefs player has knowledge more specific to his situation.
“A lot of the young dads here have given me gold gems here and there. Ross Geldenhuys [Chiefs prop] he’s got two twin girls, I talk to him a lot because there’s no one else in the team that has twins. He gives me some good advice.”
Tahuriorangi has some humble but sage advice, for Ak Kuoi or any young fathers, who might be struggling to balance work, social and family life.
“It really did make me grow up a lot more quickly and there were lots of sacrifices. Getting that balance right is definitely crucial because you want to be the best you can at work but you obviously want to be there for your family because you just never know. We’ve seen with Covid and with all that stuff just how much we tend to take life for granted. I’d also say it’s obvious you’re not going to be able to do it [raise a child] by yourself so it’s important to make sure you have a great support system and people to talk to. There’s a few challenges, but if I can do it, anyone can.”
After two losses to start Super Rugby Aotearoa it’s an uncertain season for the Chiefs, who take on the title favourite Crusaders in front of what should be a near sellout crowd in Christchurch on Sunday.
However with the club and his team-mates to lean on, Ah Kuoi and his twins should be just fine.