Tuigamala kept out of the garden

A WORKING CHRISTMAS II: Self-denial and even a portion of hard work are the watchwords for the professional
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Va'aiga Tuigamala will this year spend his first Christmas as a rugby league player, but not his first away from his roots among the Samoan community of Auckland, writes Dave Hadfield. "I've been away on tour before, and I've even seen a white Chr istmas, but it will be a bit different this year," he said.

Christmas for Samoans is an even bigger family occasion than it is in the northern hemisphere, says the former All Black winger, converted successfully into an accomplished centre during the last 12 months at Wigan.

"Samoan society is built on very close family links and Christmas is the biggest day on our calendar for fellowship and friendship," he said. "We have a feast that lasts for a week, from Christmas to New Year.

"We would normally have pigs roasting on a spit and plenty of taro, but you can't get those things here very easily, so this year we will stick to turkey and ham."

Samoa and New Zealand have a tradition of baking festive food in underground ovens. "But we won't be digging up the back garden and doing that here. The neighbours might think we were taking Christmas a bit too seriously."

Tuigamala, a devout Christian, will begin his Christmas Day by attending church in Wigan, although he admits he will miss the spine-tingling harmony singing that enlivens Polynesian services.

Then it will be back home for celebrations with an extended family including a brother who is playing union for Orrell and a number of seasonal visitors from the South Pacific.

In the afternoon, the Tuigamalas will drive around other members of the Samoan population of south-west Lancashire, before an earlyish night in preparation for an 11.30 kick off at St Helens on Boxing Day. That will be one major change as Tuigamala has not played on Boxing Day before.

But the sacrifice that rankles most with many sportsman means little to him, because he is a non-drinker. "A big drinking session for me means a lot of orange juice," he said.