From struggle street to a chance at Super Rugby for Taleni Seu

Taleni Seu didn't have much as a kid growing up in Mangere, New Zealand.

Living was basic, and supplies were spread thin between him and his siblings.

With a Niuean Tongan mother, and a Niuean Samoan father, Seu was brought up through his Niuean side, and didn't lack for company in a packed household.

The 22-year-old is the second youngest of 12 - he has seven brothers and four sisters.

Seu's younger sister now lives in Australia with his parents. One brother is also across the ditch and some of the others are also thinking of making the move.

For Seu, he has made his own transition - and down the motorway was a big enough step for him.

After one season in the NPC with Auckland, where he was called in as injury cover, he now finds himself signed with the Chiefs for Super Rugby.

"It's pretty exciting for me," Seu said.

"It was a big move down for me, moving away from family, stepping out of my comfort zone and stuff. But I'm starting to love it, and I just really love the culture."

The 2.02m, 109kg lock/flanker is still coming to terms with how his life has changed.

Until recently he was on struggle street, barely getting by, packing shelves at wholesale food distributors Bidvest - certainly not what he wanted as a career.

Now he's getting a healthy pay packet to play some footy.

"It's a big shock to me," Seu said.

"And even my family, they're like 'Last year you were struggling to find work, just struggling, and then all of a sudden a few games of ITM [Cup] and look what it can do for you."

It's only during the past couple of years that Seu has actually focused on rugby.

Through his time at Onehunga High School he played premier level basketball on Friday nights, then backed it up with rugby on Saturdays.

He was in the 1st XV, but never made any rep teams through school. Once he left, though, Seu made the Auckland academy and turned out for the province's under-20 side.

At the same time, he was showcasing his talents on the basketball court, playing for the national-championship-winning Counties Manukau under-23 team in 2014 in Mt Maunganui.

"And that's the first time I saw [Chiefs coach] Dave Rennie and [Chiefs player development and talent identification manager] Dave Dillon," Seu said.

"I'd played [Auckland] 20s for Dave Dillon, he was a coach. And he recognised me, and he was like 'What are you doing man?' And I was like 'Playing in a basketball tournament'. And a few years later, now I'm here."

After his Grammar TEC club side captured the Gallaher Shield last year, Seu was close to cracking the Auckland NPC side, and in the end managed to squeak in to their pre-season camp after Liaki Moli got injured.

"From there I just started to make the most of the opportunity that I was given. And look how fast things happen," Seu reflected.

With his skinny basketball frame, Seu has only recently worked on filling out, and said the Chiefs had also helped him in that area.

"The strength and conditioning coaches are really good, they push me hard and [are] getting me to all the targets what they want me to be at.

"The bulking up has helped me heaps, and I could feel it on the field, just feel more physical, you feel like you can do more.

"Fitness as well, I'm probably the fittest I've ever been since I started playing rugby. And the coaches just push me, and I don't back down, I just keep pushing through, have got to keep chipping away at targets and goals."

With his height tailor-made for the second row, Seu felt he was initially a bit too lazy in his core roles, and that his flamboyant style is more suited to the blindside flank. But he is working to mould the two positions.

"I want to be a lock, but be able to be a mobile lock," he said. "Because there's not many locks that have skills and footwork and stuff, and there's heaps of loosies that can do that."

The Chiefs' two trial matches - against the Waratahs in Rotorua next Friday and against the Blues in Pukekohe on February 19 - will allow Seu the chance to push his case for selection come the regular season.

And with Dominic Bird sidelined with injury for a while, he may well be thrust in quicker than expected.

"A debut for Super would be amazing, and having my family there to watch," Seu said.

He sure won't be lacking in support.