Fearless Va’alepu won’t be forgotten
The day Nene Va’alepu took on prop Reg Goodes sticks out in Henry Smith’s mind.
Va’alepu, Northern United’s centre, came up against the hulking Poneke prop during a club match a few years back and Smith, his captain, said there was no chance the much slighter man was going to give way.
‘‘Nene was one of the smallest guys out there, but he had the biggest heart,’’ Smith recalled.
‘‘To him, it didn’t matter how big they [opponents] were and Reg Goodes was pretty big. Nene muscled up and forced him backwards. It gave everyone a huge lift.’’
Va’alepu, 28, died of cancer on January 28, surrounded by his family.
A father of three, he was widely known in Porirua as a brilliant footballer, able to make the transition from rugby to rugby league seamlessly.
Pacey and fearless, Va’alepu won several titles with Norths and Porirua Vikings.
He played his junior rugby with Paremata Plimmerton and Aotea College before winning the Swindale Shield with Norths in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
He played more than 50 prem- ier games and was a member of the 2010 Jubilee Cup-winning side.
In 2008 and 2009, Va’alepu was in the outstanding Vikings teams that won back-to-back Wellington club rugby league titles under coach Julius Kuresa.
Kuresa, now on the Gold Coast, said Va’alepu was a key cog in the Vikings machine that dominated in those two seasons.
He said he had watched footage of the 2009 final, won 40-20 over Wainuiomata, and was in tears seeing Va’alepu and halves teammate Anton Wereta destroy the Wainui defence.
‘‘Nene was a special player, so quick off the mark. He could play anywhere in the backline,’’ he said.
‘‘I always thought, with his skills, he could have played at the highest level. But he loved Porirua and his family and that was his focus. He was one of the nicest, humblest guys off the field, too.’’
Norths premier team manager Mike Parker said even when Va’alepu was sick from chemotherapy, he would encourage his team at training.
Nene Va’alepu in typical barnstorming action, this time against Wainuiomata in 2013.