Valetini, 17, Signs Super Rugby Contract
A17-year-old Fijian forward has signed a Super Rugby contract straight out of school. Rob Valetini, who had impressed for the Rebels Under-20s this season before being snatched up by the Brumbies for 2017. Valetini was among the names Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has released for next year’s Super Rugby season, as the players returned to training this week. Valentini, who stands 193cm and weighs 113kg, will become just the second schoolboy to play in the NRC, after Nick Jooste played for the Perth Spirit in 2015 while in year 12. Like Jooste, Valentini is also headed to Canberra after he was recently snapped up by the Brumbies on a two-year contract. To underline just how big a prospect Valentini is regarded, he is only the second forward to sign a full Super Rugby contract while at school. The first was Luke Jones, who joined the Force after finishing year 12 exams. Even David Pocock and Michael Hooper were initially only signed to academy deals, although both made debuts in their first years at the Brumbies and Force respectively.
Valentini trained with the Rebels main squad last summer and spent a week training at the Brumbies in his last school holidays. He will be soon joined by fellow countrymen Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani who are currently on tour with the Wallabies. Larkham will lead a team that is headlined by 13 Wallabies as well as Argentina scrum-half Tomás Cubelli, who returns for a second season.
“We have a good mix of local, interstate and international players in our squad,” Larkham told the Brumbies.
“It’s a good mix of experience and youthful energy, and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to show who we are, why we are here and what we want to achieve. Last week we started our pre-season programme, and over the next couple of months, leading into our preseason games in late January, the players will work hard to improve their fitness, develop their skills, find their combination, and become a better team.” Whilst the Brumbies have named a strong squad for the 2017 season, the acquisition phase is not yet complete with the team still searching for a specialist in the number 10 position.
“It’s no secret that we are still looking at our options around the number ten position,” interim CEO Phil Thomson said. “The coaching staff have their eye on a number of potential candidates for the upcoming season. Those players will get their opportunities to impress the coaches during pre-season.” As well as the core group of Australian stars, including Kuridrani, Scott Sio, Rory Arnold, Scott Fardy, Ben Alexander, Henry Speight, Josh Mann-Rea, Sam Carter, Saia Fainga’a, Anthony Fainga’a, Christian Lealiifano and Allan Alaalatoa, the squad also contains plenty of local talent. Prop Faalelei Sione from Royals, inside centre Jordan Jackson-Hope (Tuggeranong) and scrum-half Ryan Lonergan (Tuggeranong) have made the step-up to the elite level and will be pushing hard for game time. Newcomers to the group include the return of the Fainga’a twins to the club where they started their professional career, prop Nic Mayhew from the Blues, full-back Tom Banks (Queensland), flanker Chris Alcock, who joins from the Force alongside highly promising centre Kyle Godwin, who made his Wallabies debut against France on the
weekend, and Australian Sevens Star Tom Cusack.
Brumbies squad for 2017: Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Nic Mayhew, Scott Sio, Faalelei Sione, Robbie Abel, Saia Fainga’a, Josh Mann-Rea, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Blake Enever, Tom Staniforth, Chris Alcock, Jarrad Butler, Tom Cusack, Lolo Fakaosilea, Scott Fardy, Ben Hyne, Jordan Smiler, Rob Valetini. Backs: Tomás Cubelli, Ryan Lonergan, Joe Powell, Anthony Fainga’a, Kyle Godwin, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Nick Jooste, Christian Lealiifano, Nigel Ah Wong, James Dargaville, Tevita Kuridrani, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Lausii Taliauli, Tom Banks, Aidan Toua Edited by Paula Tuvuki
Rob Valetini, (left) with headband leads the Melbourne Rising U20 side. He is now signed up for the Brumbies.