Inaugural OFC Education Centre student-athlete Steward Toata hasn’t stopped since his return to Solomon Islands late last year.
The youngster left Auckland, New Zealand and jumped straight into training with the national U-17 squad to make selection for the OFC U-17 Championship which will get underway today in Papeete, Tahiti.
“We’ve been training morning and evening every day. Sometimes they do hard trainings, sometimes easy,” he said.
“We all play really well together and I really enjoy playing with the boys. When I first started I was really shy but now that I’ve continued to train with them I feel comfortable with them. We’ve come together and have become one as a team.”
Toata was one of seven youth footballers from across the region to be selected for the inaugural OEC last year, moving in with a homestay family in Auckland for four months while balancing a busy football schedule with his education at One Tree Hill College. The Education Centre gave the young hopefuls experience and knowledge important for their potential future careers in professional football or otherwise.
Four of Toata’s OEC brothers are also competing in the OFC U-17 Championship, Fiji’s Mohammed Naizal, Papua New Guinea’s Emmanuel Simongi, Vanuatu’s Abert Vanva, and Samoa’s Eti Vatu.
“I’ve seen Nigel, from Fiji, and Emmanuel from PNG and it was good to say hi to them,” Toata said.
Toata’s biggest challenge now will be facing his friends on the field, but the striker is looking forward to the competitiveness of the matches as they all battle to do their countries proud.
“I’ve never had to play against my friends but now that Fiji is in my group I have to play against Nigel (Naizal). It will be good but it will be hard too,” he said.
“I am very confident but I know Fiji will be a hard game because they have very good players.”
Solomon Islands will face Fiji in their first match of the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti at 7pm (local time) on 12 February.