Fresh from his Melbourne Rising debut last weekend against the Perth Spirit, Mahe Vailanu talks about his extraordinary journey from his home in Tonga to be with his parents in Melbourne.
In the latest edition of My Rise in My Words, Vailanu tells us his story.
"I had to grow up quickly when my parents went on holiday and never returned.
When I was about 12 years old I was raised by my older sister and grandmother in Tonga after my parents came to Melbourne on holidays for three months and decided to stay after they fell in love with the city.
It was tough, for the first year I couldn’t do anything because I missed my parents but in my second year I got used to it and my friends helped me a lot.
I started to play rugby at about the same time as my parents left so the game was a distraction to get me through those hard times.
My life changed when I got selected for a Tongan U14s team for a Tour to New Zealand, which included a game against Auckland Grammar School.
The next year I moved to New Zealand after I was offered a rugby scholarship to the school so I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Auckland.
I arrived at Auckland Grammar as a 15-year-old scrumhalf before I moved to fly-half and finished my last year at the school as a hooker.
It was a weird to move to hooker from fly-half but I’m really happy with my decision after I realised that I wasn’t fast enough anymore.
After I finished school, my coach in New Zealand contacted Harlequin and Melbourne Rising assistant coach Pom Simona about an opportunity to move to Melbourne and have a crack at making the Rebels U20s program.
Not only did I want to continue my rugby career in Melbourne but I wanted to move here to be closer to mum and dad.
The Rebels U20s program was a great experience, Rebels U20s head coach Craig McGrath, Pom and Nic Henderson helped me a lot with me game, even when they moved me to prop during the season.
It was fun to be back playing with Hunter (Paisami) again this year after we were teammates in the Auckland U18s team so it was good to have a familiar face.
My move to Melbourne was hard at the start because I didn’t have a job or anything but rugby again helped me a lot to settle into this new life.
I never expected Melbourne Rising head coach Zane Hilton would call me with the chance to play National Rugby Championship this year.
I knew the Rising had hookers James Hanson, Jordan Uelese and Siliva Siliva so I was even more surprised to hear that Zane wanted to select me as a back rower, not a hooker, but I’m grateful for their faith in me.
Last weekend’s game against the Perth Spirit was the first time that I ever played in the backrow but to get the opportunity to start in the first game of the season was pretty awesome.
I would like to keep playing in Melbourne and try to get selected for the Melbourne Rebels and play Super Rugby one day.
I don’t mind if it’s I don’t mind if it’s as a scrumhalf, fly-half, hooker, prop or back rower."