The ultimate goal is to attend another World Cup.WILDFIRES HALFBACK LEON FUKOFUKA
LEON Fukofuka played at the 2019 World Cup and has been named in the Tongan squad for upcoming Tests against Scotland and England - but Wildfires coach Scott Coleman is adamant the powerhouse halfback has only scratched the surface.
In a major coup, Fukofuka has re-signed with the Wildfires and will be an influential figure in their pursuit of a Shute Shield premiership next year.
And if the former Canterbury Crusaders No.9 can stay fit, Coleman believes another World Cup and a return to Super Rugby are on the cards.
"Most definitely, he has a lot more to give," Coleman said. "Weight is his biggest problem. It has been an issue throughout his career. He is working hard and is super keen to get better and better.
"His anticipation and game knowledge is phenomenal. Sometimes he looks like he is walking on the field but he is at the breakdown before the ball is ready. He knows the lines to run and is very rugby smart.
"When he is on, he is super physical and is hard to stop. He is a massive part of our club going forward. He is very influential on and off the field.
"We haven't see the best of him."
Fukofuka, recently turned 26, was born in Auckland and represents Tonga through his heritage. His dad Tuakalau Fukofuka also represented Tonga and played at the 1995 World Cup.
Leon joined the Wildfires last season after two years playing in England and, by his own admission, wasn't in shape to handle the pace of the Shute Shield.
"For me the biggest difference was the speed," the halfback said. "I had been in England for the two years. The games is slow over there and set-piece orientated. Coming here. Bang. It caught me out. I didn't know it was going to be that quick. It reminded me of the Mitre 10 Cup back home.
"I felt like I was hitting my stride when Covid-19 struck and the competition was suspended. We had won three games in a row. I was a lot fitter. This year I will get a pre-season in."
Fukofuka has kept training in readiness for Tonga's Spring Tour which departs at the end of the month and includes matches against Scotland, England, French Barbarians and Romania.
"I am sitting under 100kg which is light for me," he said. "The lighter I can be, the better. As a Tongan, physicality is no problem. Losing weight is the biggest part.
"I have been on a food plan for the last two months and Wildfires strength and condition coach Shannon Mackie has been been shooting me cardio sessions to do.
"The Spring tour is a great opportunity to prove myself. The ultimate goal is to attend another World Cup. You don't too play many in your life time. To play at two would be awesome."
Fukofuka had "offers from here and there" but likes the culture being built at the Wildfires.
"I really enjoyed last season," he said. "Being here made me realise how much I love footy. The culture is awesome. A lot of new faces willing to work hard. Being around good people like Bubba (Coleman) and Brett Sutherland (Wildfires President). It was good to be here with guys who really love the game."
The Wildfires, after a slow start, had climbed to ninth when the competition was suspended and had Henry Stowers, Joe Tamani and OJ Noah pick up Super Rugby contracts.
"This year, we start training on November 1, we didn't get a chance to do that last season," Fukofuka said. "A lot of guys came in just before the competition started. We have a massive opportunity this year. With a lot of the boys coming back and Waratahs Lona Holaholo and Ruan Smith coming on board, we can give it a shake."
Fokofuka's younger bother, 22-year-old prop Isi, has also recommitted. Promising Canberra trio Nick Wald, Thomas Watego and Jed Elgert and Welsh born fly-half Luke Bevan signed this week.
The Wildfires have changed colours from the traditional cinnamon brown, green and white to red, white and blue, which brings them into line with the junior representative teams.
Now all Hunter Wildfires teams from under-11s through to the men and women will have the same logo and colours.
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