by NZ Herald
Of all the NZ rookies named to face Samoa on Saturday, arguably no one is more important than Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Although there has been a lot of uncertainty around the Kiwis' prospects at this Rugby League World Cup, the giant frame of Asofa-Solomona provides some hope.
He could be the Kiwis not-so-secret weapon, and provides a point of difference that will be invaluable in the coming weeks.
For all the hype over the last couple of years, the uncomfortable fact is that the Kiwis pack has been regularly out pointed by their Kangaroos opposites, and were also outmuscled by England in 2015 in the northern hemisphere.
Asofa-Solomona could help redress that balance. He's a giant of a man, probably the biggest player in the NRL at 2m and 118kg.
But he is also good with ball in hand, and reasonably nimble on his feet. It adds up to a fearsome package, which, if the Kiwis can harness it, should pay dividends over the coming weeks.
The 21-year-old is coming off an impressive season, a vital part of the Melbourne Storm machine, often providing game turning momentum off the bench.
"I feel like I have developed really well this year," Asofa-Solomona told the Herald. "It's off the back of the great leaders at the Storm, the culture and especially the support around me. That's helped me mature, helped me in my career."
Asofa-Solomona had always been marked out as one to watch, but his consistency has increased significantly in his third NRL season.
"The main thing is to just to do my job," he said. "If I try to do something outside of my job, it won't turn out good. And I have learned a lot about preparation; if I prepare well, eat well, sleep well, then you are setting yourself up to play well."
In some ways, the Kiwis are fortunate to have him. He had turned out for the Upper Hutt Tigers in the Wellington league competition, but like many New Zealanders was heading down a rugby trajectory, especially with his eye-catching performances for the Wellington College 1st XV.
But the persistence of the Storm paid off, after they had first spotted him as a 14-year-old.
"I could have stayed in rugby union but the opportunity was too great to go to the Storm," said Asofa-Solomona. "I loved the culture, and what the team was all about so I had to take the offer.
They were so loyal to me, from a young age."
Asofa-Solomona correctly identified the Storm was the best place - perhaps even across Australasia - to build good habits, on and off the field.
"I saw what the club could do for players," said Asofa-Solomona. "I thought that if I was to put myself in that culture, I could become a better person and a better player. They have taught me to focus on the little things and things will come off the back of that."
Asofa-Solomona doesn't discount a switch to rugby one day, and it feels like that could become an ongoing storyline over the next few years. But the laidback prop. who also broke all kinds of athletics records at high school, is only focused on this World Cup.
"I love to live in the moment. I only look as far as tomorrow," said Asofa-Solomona. "I take it day by day, can't look further than that. And [this tournament] will be great, playing in front of a home crowd and in front of my family."