29/02/1996 - WELLINGTON
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Wellington-born Nelson Asofa-Solomona sidestepped certain rugby union stardom to join Melbourne Storm, before breaking into the Kiwis Test team in 2017.

The towering tyro played rugby league at junior level for Upper Hutt Tigers, but the Wellington College product had been earmarked for the 15-a-side heights until the Storm recognised Asofa-Solomona’s potential and lured him across the Tasman.

Asofa-Solomona cut his teeth with Melbourne’s under-20s side in 2014 and was blooded in Craig Bellamy’s NRL line-up the following season. The 19-year-old came off the bench 12 times, including both of the club’s finals games. He produced a strong follow-up campaign in 2016 but dislocated his elbow during the playoffs, ruling him out of the Storm’s grand final loss to Cronulla – and a potential end-of-year Kiwis call-up.

But Asofa-Solomona ticked both boxes in 2017, missing just one of Melbourne’s games and starring in the grand final defeat of North Queensland, before featuring in all four matches of New Zealand’s World Cup campaign. He scored a try on Test debut in the Kiwis’ pool victory over Samoa and was later named Kiwis Rookie of the Year.

Establishing himself as a front-row starter for the Storm in 2018, ‘NAS’ was vital cog of their drive to another grand final appearance – a loss to Sydney Roosters – while he played in the mid-season Test against England in Denver. An ankle injury ruled him out of the Kiwis’ post-season campaign.

Asofa-Solomona returned to the New Zealand side for the following year’s mid-season showdown with Mate Ma’a Tonga in Auckland. He was one of the most effective forwards on the field, racking up 125 metres and 30 tackles in 44 minutes off the bench.

The two-metre enforcer’s intimidating physical presence is matched by his aggression and explosive impact on both sides of the ball. Freakishly mobile and athletic for his size, Asofa-Solomona’s ball skills are another dangerous weapon in his arsenal. He passed 100 NRL appearances for the Storm in a stellar 2019 season, and put up career-high tallies for games played (27), average metres (122), average tackles (21.4) and offloads (39), as well as make 70-plus tackle-breaks for the third straight year.

An automatic selection for New Zealand’s end-of-year Test schedule, Asofa-Solomona was ruled out of the clashes with Australia and Great Britain due to an NRL-imposed suspension for an off-field incident.

Asofa-Solomona recovered from that setback in 2020, however, reaching 20 appearances for the fourth straight NRL season (averaging 3.5 tackle-breaks and 120 metres in the process) and starting at lock in the Storm’s grand final victory over the Panthers.

Restricted to 15 regular-season games in 2021, the 25-year-old nevertheless played a prominent role in another Melbourne minor premiership and featured in both of the club’s finals fixtures. He was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of the year.

Asofa-Solomona was a front-row mainstay for the injury-hit Storm in 2022 and returned to the New Zealand Test line-up for the mid-season clash with Tonga, coming off the bench and contributing to a dominant engine-room display as the Kiwis ran out 26-6 victors.

The 26-year-old featured in his eighth straight NRL finals series with Melbourne before earning selection for his second World Cup campaign at the end of 2022. He played in all five of the Kiwis’ matches in England, scoring a try in their opening pool game against Lebanon, making second-row starts against Ireland and the quarter-final win over Fiji, and featuring off the bench in the semi-final defeat to Australia.

NAS overcame an injury-hampered start to 2023 to finish with 20 appearances as the Storm reached the preliminary final, before taking his place as one of the most experienced members of the Kiwis’ Pacific Championship squad. He scored a try in the 50-0 win over Samoa and put an ill-tempered display in the round-robin loss to Australia in Melbourne with a powerful 121-metre contribution in the 30-0 demolition of the Kangaroos in the final.


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