Dragons hooker Shane Pumipi out to impress

Shane Pumipi's contract is up at the end of the year. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Shane Pumipi's contract is up at the end of the year. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Interchange Dragons hooker Shane Pumipi has travelled more kilometres than most to make it to the NRL.

His story begins in Dargaville, a town of just 5000 people on northern tip of New Zealand's North Island famous for the country's best sweet potato and where rugby union is king.

"It's a small town about two hours north of Auckland and it's all pretty much rugby union," Pumipi said.

"There was no rugby league so I had to travel two and three hours just to train and play but I always enjoyed it."

His commute to play league for the Northcote Tigers in Auckland paid dividends when he was picked up by Cronulla as a teenager and took a punt on coming to Australia.

"It was a big learning curve," he said.

"It probably wasn't the best move for me at that age, getting used to the new lifestyle."

A switch to the Bulldogs in 2009 saw him play more regularly as he started to find his groove, earning NSW Residents selection in 2012 before skipper Michael Ennis' mortgage on the No 9 saw him look elsewhere for an opportunity.

"I loved it there and I learned quite a bit off Jimmy [Jim Dymock] and Des Hasler but it was pretty hard with Mick in front of me because he was playing 80 minutes and he never got injured."

Pumipi made the switch to Cutters in 2013 where he found himself behind Mitch Rein and former Dragons NYC captain Craig Garvey in the pecking order.

He admits that, at 24 and at his third club, he thought he might never crack the NRL.

"It always crosses your mind but [then Cutters coach] Mary was pretty good. He said it's fresh start and if you work hard you get what you want down here."

It was fitting that McGregor - now caretaker head coach - gave him his first NRL start in round 12.

"I think it's a really good story when you break it down. Who would've thought Shane Pumipi playing NSW Cup without a contract would've played five first grade games in a row - it's a credit to him," McGregor said.

"He's not there just because I like him, he's there because he can play and he's a footballer. He's improving every week and while he's doing that he's not going to get replaced."

Unsigned for next year, Pumipi is looking for a full-time contract

"I'm only signed until the end of the year so that's the goal ... to work hard and earn something for next year," Pumipi said.

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