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Canterbury's Jaye Pukepuke. Pirtek NZRL National Premiership Rugby League match. Counties Manukau Stingrays v Canterbury Bulls at Massey Park, Papukura, Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 27 September 2014. Photo: Andrew Cornaga /

Jaye Pukepuke has found salvation and redemption through rugby league.

His story comes from the same book featuring chapters on three players with links with the Vodafone Warriors - current NRL and now Kiwi prop Suaia Matagi, former Vodafone Warriors NRL squad member and Auckland Vulcans centre Shaun Metcalf and Parramatta and ex-Vulcans back rower Manu Ma'u, who was once part of the Vodafone Warriors' development squad.

After spending time in prison all three turned their lives around through rugby league, the game eventually anabling them to travel to Australia to pursue their dreams of playing the game professionally.

Pukepuke featured in trials and subsequently appeared for the then-named Auckland Lions - the Vodafone Warriors' feeder side - ahead of their debut season in what was the New South Wales Premier League in 2007 (now the New South Wales Cup). The team was renamed the Auckland Vulcans in 2008, Pukepuke appearing for a Vulcans Selection in a trial against the Vodafone Junior Warriors ahead of their debut season in the NYC in 2008.

These days Pukepuke lives in Christchurch where he is player-coach for the Papanui Tigers. At 34 he still plays for the Canterbury Bulls in the NZRL National Championship; in 2010 he played alongside Matagi and Metcalf for the New Zealand Residents and was again in the side in 2011 with Matagi and Ma'u.

Now, like Matagi, Metcalf and Ma'u, he has gained his passport to travel out of the country. He'll have the thrill of flying to Australia with the New Zealand Maori next week to play against the Murri Queensland Indigenous team on the Gold Coast.

Sports writer Tony Smith has told Jaye Pukepuke's story in an inspirational feature in The Press today. In it Pukepuke says: "Rugby league saved my life along with education and family". 


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