My Dad was a really reserved, quiet man. We weren’t openly affectionate in our household and growing up, that’s all I knew. I don’t think he meant to be that way, it was just his personality. But it changed me a little because I knew I wanted to be less guarded. To be more out there. I knew that to achieve what I wanted I had to step out of that mould. It took me a while. My biggest insecurity was what other people thought about me. I was always that kid sitting at the back of class, never putting my hand up. But that’s not how you learn and improve. You have to be vulnerable and make yourself uncomfortable in order to grow.
I always wanted to play either rugby or league. Friday night footy was big in our house - my family would be glued to the TV so I was a huge fan. But it wasn’t until a close friend of mine, Joe Rokocoko, broke into the NZ7s team that I took it seriously. Watching him on the big stage made me so proud. I thought if one of my best mates who lives down the road can make it, then maybe it wasn’t too far out of my reach. I was empowered to go out and work to try and achieve the same.
I’ll never forget my first game for the All Blacks. I was 20 years old. It was in London, at Twickenham, against the Barbarians. And I was so bloody nervous. I was nervous about the unknown. If I was up to the level I was about to encounter. If I was good enough to be amongst the legends I had watched on TV. What would people say if I had a shocker? You make a mistake and you’re going to be on the front page of the paper. It was an overwhelming feeling. But once I was out there on the field, it went so quick.
Confidence isn’t something you’re born with. You gain it through lived experiences and throughout most of my career I’ve always questioned if I’ve done enough or if my team mates think I’m good enough. Then I met All Black mental skill master, Gilbert Enoka. He gave me simple tools for my training preparation - to be process focused not outcome focused. There’s a lot of visualisation techniques. Visualising what I’m going to do in a game before it happens so I’m prepared for anything. That impacted my confidence in a positive way.
Looking back, I wish I could tell that 20 year old kid to step out and be a leader earlier. Don’t lean back and hide. I was always happy to sit with the crowd because I was worried about what other people would say about me. That sat with me for most of my career. But I’ve learned that what other people think about you is harmless – your growth is a lot more satisfying.
We knew from the get-go that MINT would be a brand built upon diversity and inclusiveness because that’s exactly how I would sum up our childhood in Papakura. We had all different cultures and religions around us – Indians, Tongans, Samoans, Maori, Muslims, Mormons, Christians. I found it pretty cool. It was a natural instinct to learn about my friends and their different lifestyles. But I think what’s more important is the challenges and struggles that come up from such diverse backgrounds and cultures. Financial hardship. Discrimination. Language barriers. Poor representation in mainstream media. The list goes on.
I want MINT to play a BIG part in bringing those experiences, insecurities and challenges to the forefront. To make it the norm for people to talk about, learn from and use as motivation to be proud and confident not only for ourselves but for our families and future generations.