Profiling New Highlander - Ryan Tongia
- January 22, 2015
Thursday 22nd January 2015
It's something many sportsmen attempt, many of whom fail.
The switch from rugby league to rugby union.
A handful of players have made successful code switches in the past, namely Sonny Bill-Williams and Israel Folau.
One player who has tasted success in his switch from league to union is new Highlanders recruit Ryan Tongia.
Bursting onto the New Zealand domestic rugby scene in 2014, Tongia became a key member of the Hawke's Bay side that won the Ranfurly Shield and he was also the top try scorer in last seasons ITM Cup, scoring 10 tries.
The 24 year-old's rise through the rugby union ranks is not your usual story of a player switching from rugby league, however.
Born in Brisbane, Australia, Tongia became a schoolboy rugby league star while playing for Clair Vaux Mackillop College in Brisbane. He played with and against the likes of Wallabies James O'Connor and Matt Toomua during his schoolboy days on the rugby league field.
Tongia was signed by the Gold Coast Titans once he left school, spending two years playing for their under-20 side in 2008 and 2009.
After signing for the Cronoulla Sharks in 2010, the outside back, who is most familiar with playing on the wing, was selected to play for Papua New Guinea in the 2010 Four Nations tournament - a place where he spent time growing up as a child, due to his parents who were born there.
The chance to play with and rub shoulders against the best league players in the world was the definite highlight of his league career, Tongia said.
"We played against New Zealand, Australia and England; I'd say it was the highlight," he said.
In search of more regular game time, Tongia left the Sharks and headed to The English Super League where he signed on with Wakefield for the 2011 season.
In mid 2012 Tongia made the decision to head back to Brisbane for personal reasons.
He tried his luck to secure an NRL contract upon arriving back in Australia, however was unable to secure a deal with any team.
At a crossroads in his career, Tongia made the decision to switch to rugby union in late 2013.
He took part in the Noosa International sevens tournament at the end of 2013, impressing enough to be invited to the Australian sevens training camp.
"That kind of got me interested in the whole rugby thing."
"After tasting that (Australian sevens camp) I had more of a desire to play in the 15 man game."
With his name starting to gather some momentum in rugby union circles, Tongia approached the Queensland Reds in search of an opportunity to play Super Rugby, or at least be a part of the squad, however he was told they were not interested in acquiring his services.
Not being wanted by his home franchise had left Tongia disappointed.
"The Reds weren't interested, it kind of left me dumbfounded," Tongia said.
Intent on still trying to make it in the world of professional rugby, he went about pursuing opportunities in New Zealand.
After a few enquiries Tongia made his way to Hawke's Bay in June 2014 to try and gain a place in the Hawke's Bay ITM Cup team.
Arriving with no guarantee of a contract, Tongia came to Napier needing to prove himself in club rugby to gain a contract with the Magpies.
"After four club games I was invited to come and train with the Hawke's Bay squad," he said.
Tongia impressed enough to gain a Hawke's Bay contract soon after arriving.
The outside back went from strength to strength in the 2014 ITM Cup, playing well enough to catch the attention of Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph.
"After the final shield game I got a phone call from Jamie saying he was keen to have me on board for the 2015 season as a member of the wider-training squad," Tongia said.
Tongia has also signed on for the Highlanders for the 2016 season and has relocated south bringing with him his partner Rachel.
He is also father to his son Makaio, 5, who is based in Australia with his mother but comes across the Tasman to see Tongia on a regular basis.
"They (Rachel and Makaio) are both two reasons why I want to give it a crack and do well over here."
By: Scott Eade