Fresh from a summer campaign with Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup, scrum-half Sonatane Takulua is ready to help Newcastle Falcons build on last season’s heroics.
Takulua was a match-winner for the Falcons on more than one occasion last term as they secured their highest league finish in two decades, the half-back kicking the winning conversions at both Leicester and Northampton to lift the Falcons into their first ever Premiership semi-final.
Continuing his hot streak on national duty during June, the 27-year-old said: “Being on tour with Tonga was a good experience, as always.
“I went back home from Newcastle at the end of the Premiership season, had a few days with the family and then went back into the national team camp before flying to Fiji, where all three games were played.
“We lost our first game against Georgia by one point, bounced back in our second and third games against Samoa and Fiji, and it was a lot of fun.”
Forming part of a strong Falcons contingent for the tournament, Takulua said: “My Newcastle team-mates Sinoti and Niki Goneva were there playing for Samoa and Fiji, which was great, and we were able to hook up a couple of times. Niki showed us his full Fijian hospitality and we ate very well on those occasions, and it’s always nice to see your Falcons mates even when you’re playing for different countries.
“The experience of playing against them was something we only normally get in training, but you just do your best as you would do against any player. We go hard at each other on the field, but as soon as that final whistle goes it’s back to joking together and just being mates like normal.”
Now in the familiar surroundings of Kingston Park Stadium having slotted back in for pre-season, the former Northland star is catching up on the players who began their preparations in late June.
“It’s good to be back in Newcastle, and I’m in my second week here now,” he said.
“With playing international rugby throughout June I’ve kept in decent shape, even though I’m starting pre-season a lot later than most of the squad. The games are getting closer, I feel pretty fresh and I’m just enjoying the feeling of getting back into it for another big season.”
Newcastle’s run of pre-season games begins with this Saturday’s visit of Nottingham, followed by Leinster away (Aug 17), Edinburgh at home (Aug 24) and Doncaster away (Aug 25). That all leads into a home start to the Gallagher Premiership season when champions Saracens visit Kingston Park Stadium on Sunday September 2, Takulua excited by the heightened expectations around his team.
“Our fans will always be right behind us, and that’s fantastic, but for people outside of the club they’ll probably have a bit more respect or expectation around what we can do,” he said.
“They won’t consider us to be a lowly team, like they might have done before, and as a club we’ve got to build on what we did last season. It’s the responsibility of every single person within the club to lift it another level, keep working hard and looking to improve.
“I’ve only been back just over a week but the early signs are that everyone is doing their bit. The new boys are settling in well, the academy guys who have stepped up into the squad are looking really strong and that has to be good for the future of the Falcons. I think people are right to be excited about what we can do over the next few years.”
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