Raiders hooker Siliva Havili.

How Tonga's World Cup run gave Havili a lifeline

Four months ago Siliva Havili had a U-Haul van, a baby on the way and a podiatry degree.

Now he shapes as the Canberra Raiders key man in their bid to return to finals footy.

Tonga's fateful World Cup campaign presented as both an opportunity, and a dirty big spanner in the works of the off-contract hooker, who played alternating games of phone tag with a heavily pregnant wife in New Zealand and a real estate agent in Wollongong.

When the phone rang once more, just a few days after the Mate Ma'a's giant killing remarkable run was iced by England, Havili had a place for that U-Haul van.

He had a contract. He had a home for new bub Sisila, who arrived last month, and wife Loreta, with the pair touching down in the nation's capital just last week.

To mark the turnaround in fortunes that mirrored Tonga's march to the World Cup semi-finals, Havili also added new ink to his 104-kilo frame, a tattoo bearing the island nation's coat of arms which now takes up most of his right calf.

And in a fortnight's time Havili is likely to add the Canberra Raiders No.9 jumper to his list, with the Dragons discard now the front-runner to replace injured star Josh Hodgson when the Telstra Premiership kicks off.

" I was off-contract and it was a dark place for a while," Havili says looking back to last October.

"I was hoping for some performances at the World Cup to get me somewhere and Canberra ended up being in the market for a hooker after Hodgo's injury, so I'm just grateful for the opportunity.

"When we left for the World Cup I had to move everything from Wollongong but we didn't know where it was going to.

"I was talking to my real estate in the Gong, trying to get stuff put into storage but it was too late.

"I was away for six or seven weeks with Tonga and all the kit was sitting back there not knowing where it was going.

"Then a couple of days after that semi-final I hadn't heard a thing and I was actually trying to put my head down and forget footy for a bit.

"I wanted to spend time with my wife because she was pregnant at the time and I just wanted to be around her.

"It ended up sorting itself out and the Raiders have been so good helping me relocate. That's why I'm so grateful, they've put time into me and I want to repay them on the field."

Raiders hooker Siliva Havili.
Raiders hooker Siliva Havili. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Canberra's recruitment chief Peter Mulholland knows he's got a good one in Havili.

It's why he signed the Warriors junior for St. George Illawarra two years ago, only to then depart the joint-venture himself for his current Raiders gig.

Havili has been given a modest one-year deal and the chance to prove he deserves another under Ricky Stuart. 

He has Craig Garvey breathing down his neck for a starting role at dummy half. Havili also has flat feet, treatment for which sparked an interest in podiatry and a subsequent three-year university degree.

Here is where the 25-year-old's healthy perspective on football and his future lies.

Despite a shock Test debut for New Zealand in 2014 with just three NRL appearances from the Warriors bench to his name, Havili has never really been the type to pile all his eggs into a Steeden-shaped basket.

His upbringing in Otara South, an Auckland suburb that draws derision from his teammates and suspicion from others, has plenty to do with it.

"It's got a reputation alright, in the bad areas yeah," Havili grins.

"When it gets mentioned the boys laugh at you and it's pretty much the Mt. Druitt of Auckland.

"But it's home for me and always will be. The family home is still there and my parents still live there.

"It was a hard place to grow up. You'd see the gangs and all that, on weekends there would be bottle fights and that, bottles get thrown and there was a lot of crime growing up.

"We did see the odd fight and that but it's also calmed down. There's a lot of youth work and social workers going into the place now, and junior footy has a positive influence too.

"Going to uni and getting my degree is something I'm proud of. Credit to the Warriors and the NRL too for their help with that because it's a genuine (career) option to go with my footy and something I'm now always going to have."