Fear­less Va’alepu won’t be for­got­ten

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - KRIS DANDO

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.

PHOTO: CHAINSAWPHOTOS

Nene Va’alepu in typ­i­cal barn­storm­ing ac­tion, this time against Wainuiomata in 2013.

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