Tevita Li was undoubtedly one of the most highly touted young players in World Rugby in 2014.
Making his debut for North Harbour at just eighteen-years-old whilst he was still at school in 2013. Li would go on to dominate the 2014 Junior World Cup scoring 7 tries in 5 matches, following it up with a further 6 tries in 5 matches the following year.
This incredible form earned him a call up to the Blues Super Rugby side for their 2014 season.
His ascension from school prodigy to professional superstar was so swift that many were already comparing him to greats of New Zealand Rugby such as Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu.
Following three at times challenging seasons in Auckland, Li made the switch to Highlanders who were coming off back-to-back successful seasons which included a title in 2015 and semi-final loss in 2016.
Having stagnated somewhat in Auckland as the franchise struggled both on and off the field, it was hoped his move to Otago would reinvigorate Li and get him into All-Black contention.
Despite becoming a regular in the Highlanders match day squads, Li never quite reached the highs that many expected of him.
It was this disappointment that saw the then twenty-five-year-old head for greener pastures in Japan.
Since his arrival at top league Suntory Sungolaith, Li has been in scintillating form and has gone on to be one of the best players in the stacked league.
This form combined with his comfort in the country has now prompted Li to declare his intention to represent Japan on the international stage.
Whilst Li will not be eligible to represent the Brave Blossoms at next year’s World Cup he will be available for the next tournament in 2027.
Li who is of Tongan heritage will need to remain in Japan for another two years to be eligible for his adopted home country and could fill the void which will be left by star wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima.
Fukuoka has already announced that he will retire from international rugby following next year’s World Cup to become a doctor. Whilst Matushima will be thirty-four-years-old by the time the 2027 tournament comes around.
Should he keep his form for both North Harbour and Suntory, Li could find himself being a wanted man by not only Japan but also New Zealand and Tonga.