Denny Solomona of Sale Sharks looks on during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale and Northampton Saints. Photo/Getty Images.
Former England wing and dual code international Denny Solomona is returning home to New Zealand where he will seek to start the next chapter of his career by joining a Super Rugby team.
his mark in the UK as the Super League’s record-breaking single season try-scorer and switching codes to play five times under Eddie Jones for England, Solomona grew up in Auckland.
He played touch rugby with the Ioane brothers; attended Otahuhu College with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and then played against the former Warriors captain turned Blues midfielder in the Auckland first XV competition after moving to St Peter’s College.
Through his time at St Peter’s, Solomona also has ties to Patrick Tuipulotu, Vince Aso, Peter Saili and Bryn Hall.
That’s where the New Zealand connection ends, though. Solomona took his talent – he clocked the 100m in 10.7 seconds and weighs 105kg – offshore to sign with the Melbourne Storm as a 15-year-old.
He has since spent the entirety of his professional career away from home, having played for the London Broncos and Castleford Tigers in the Super League before switching to union and representing Sale Sharks in the English Premiership for the past five years, scoring 47 tries in 97 appearances.
Now, though, after 13 years abroad, the pull of home is tugging at heartstrings.
Solomona misses his family greatly – his mother and grandparents reside in Auckland. With partner Holly and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Roux on board, he’s ready to move home next month.
“I’ve reached a point in my career where there’s something missing,” the 28-year-old Solomona tells the Herald this week. “There’s an itch on my back I haven’t scratched before and that is coming back home.
“The competition is fierce. Everyone who knows rugby knows Super Rugby. It would be awesome to go back and touch base with where I came from and play against the boys I grew up with.
“I’ve achieved a lot in England but it’s time to come home and see where I’m at.”
After representing Samoa in rugby league Solomona made his union test debut for England five years ago, scoring a try off the bench. While he didn’t kick on in the test scene he reflects fondly on an at times turbulent ride in the UK.
“I played rugby league for Castleford, breaking try-scoring records in that Super League season then going to play for Toa Samoa in Samoa which was awesome.
“I always had that urge to go back to rugby union so that was a big decision. The five years at Sale were hectic. The first year I made my debut for England and that was crazy. Eddie Jones called me up and said he wanted a finisher in his team.
“England was where I wanted to stay and live so I thought why not represent a country that had given me so much? My first game in Argentina was probably the best and worst game I’ve ever had in my life. To have my parents there to witness that was awesome.
“As a kid from Otara, South Auckland, everyone has dreams big enough to fill the sky. Mine was to inspire through rugby. Looking back on what I’ve done, I hope I did that.”
During his time in the pressure-filled pro-sport world Solomona endured battles with depression and has, therefore, become a passionate mental health advocate.
“Going through lockdown the whole world shut down and a lot of people are struggling so to hear professional athletes speak out when the fans think we’re superhuman… to hear some emotions and realism it’s refreshing.
“Some players won’t experience depression but you can still get around the cause. It’s something that’s really close to my heart. If anyone is struggling out there speak out, people will listen. Mental health is important for everyone.”
Shifting home at this time of year, with Super Rugby Pacific’s inaugural season looming next month, leaves squads largely full.
Solomona is open to joining any team on a replacement-player contract should injuries hit but given his Samoan heritage and vision to switch allegiance and feature at the 2023 World Cup with the Island nation, Moana Pasifika could prove a good fit.
“The aspiration is there to play in a World Cup. The eligibility rules have changed but I have to earn my spot. Just because I say I’m keen doesn’t mean you’re going to get in straight away.
“I want to deliver some good performances and start loving my rugby more and being surrounded by family.”
Solomona fully grasps the challenges he will face in attempting to transition from the kick-heavy, defense oriented English game played in the depths of winter to the expansive, free-flowing fields of Super Rugby. Yet he believes the attack-focused New Zealand approach will suit his natural abilities.
“I’m coming from a style of rugby that I’ve known for five years now so I’ll have to adapt to other coaches’ philosophies and tactics and other players. It’s going to be all new to me.
“In England, the game has brought in caterpillar rucks. It’s kick tennis more here than anywhere so it would be nice to play rugby how we used to in the backyard by throwing the ball about.
“Whatever team needs me I’ll try understand what role they need me to play if I can get in there through injury cover.”
With a room secured in the MIQ lottery, Solomona will soon be winging his way back to where it all began.
“Everything about moving back home is going to fill my soul. When you come home you get this internal energy. I feel like when I touch down in New Zealand I will be at peace and I can experience what I’ve missed for so many years. I can share my culture with my partner and hopefully get stuck into Kiwi footy.”