8 Sep 2016

Lomu looms large in memorial match

10:06 pm on 8 September 2016

The late All Black great Jonah Lomu loomed large in the minds of his opponents, and his memory will loom large in Friday night's provincial match between Wellington and Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe.

Jonah Lomu at Twickenham, London in 2002, before an All Blacks vs England match.

New Zealand rugby great Jonah Lomu died in November 2015 at the age of 40. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The two sides will be playing for the inaugural Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy Match in memory of Lomu, who died in November last year at the age of 40.

Wellington and Counties Manukau will contest the number 11 Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy each time they play one another.

The Jonah Lomu trophy is made of totara, is almost 1m tall and was made by Lomu's childhood friend, Tony Makiha. Photo: Supplied

Lomu was a proud Counties-Manukau and Wellington player - playing 28 games for Counties Manukau between 1994-1999 and 21 games for Wellington between 2000-2003.

The metre-high "Number 11" Totara trophy has both Māori and Tongan designs carved into it and will be up for grabs every time Counties-Manukau and Wellington play each other.

However, Lomu's former provincial teammate and now Counties-Manukau assistant coach, Grant Henson, believed carver Tony Makiha, who made the trophy and was a childhood friend of Lomu, had a cunning plan ensure the trophy never left Pukekohe.

"It's quite tall, it's thick, it's blimmin' heavy and probably take two guys to lift it so [it] may be the guy who designed it had that in mind and it might have to stay in Counties anyway, even if Wellington win it - might be too much of a mission to get it back down there," he said

For Counties-Manukau flanker Jordan Taufua growing up supporting the Steelers meant there was only one player every youngster wanted to be ...right down to the haircut.

Jonah Lomu with Joeli Vidiri on the rugby sidelines. 2006.

Former Counties teamates and long-time friends Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"My old man probably loved him more than me because he gave all five of my brothers and I the Jonah haircut... You know, the boof, where you shave your head but leave [a tuft] at the front... and we had to go to school looking like that."

Taufua said, while they weren't planning on getting Lomu-haircuts for Friday night, some players were thinking of shaving the number 11 into their eyebrows, like Lomu used to.

Of course it wasn't just Pukekoke youngsters Lomu inspired.

Wellington captain Brad Shields said, while older trophies that provinces played for always added to a match, this one would be extra special as Lomu was such an influence nationwide.

Jonah Lomu in action RWC 1995

Jonah Lomu in his prime at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"My first proper memory is at the [Wellington] Stadium and someone came over to me from a radio station and asked me who my favourite player is - and I said Jonah Lomu... mostly because every time I got the ball [when I was a youngster] I thought I was Jonah."

The impact of Lomu on the sport was also remembered by Sir Gordon Tietjens earlier this week when he announced he was stepping down as coach of the national sevens side after 22 years in charge. He was asked about the most influential player he ever coached.

"Jonah Lomu no question... He single-handedly won us the first World Cup in South America. Just quite incredible really for someone who was so big, so quick, so strong. He was probably never as fit as you'd want as a coach but he always gave you everything on the field."

Counties-Manukau will wear a special edition jersey for the match with the jerseys styled on those worn by Lomu and his teammates in the 1990s.