Rising Star - Junior Uelese

by Giacomo Bruno

The Uelese name is no stranger to the Australian rugby fraternity.

With powerful Victorian hooker Jordan making waves for the Wallabies ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, there’s another Uelese who’s quietly achieving his dream of making it in professional rugby.

And that player is none other than Melbourne Rising prop Junior Uelese.

Uelese, the younger brother of Melbourne Rebels star Jordan, is an exciting prospect, and while still only being 19 years of age, the front rower stands at an imposing 190cm and 134kg, a whole 18kgs heavier than his internationally capped sibling.

Uelese likes being physical, wants to take the game on and strives to be a dominant force on the field.

“I’m a dominant ball carrier, a big body around the park who tries to get around a bit," Uelese said.

”That’s my game. When I’m playing rugby, I use my body frame to the best of my ability and I try (and) run people over.”

Originally born in Wellington, New Zealand, it would be only natural for Uelese to develop a love for rugby union, which continued after he and his family moved to Melbourne at an early age.

Even after settling in the traditional AFL state of Victoria, Uelese was still passionate about rugby, and decided to try and take it up professionally. Coming from a family of rugby fanatics and with his older brother Jordan a Wallaby, it was a dream which didn’t come as a surprise to many.

“I’ve always had a thing for rugby,” Uelese said.

“All my older brothers played and my dad played, so playing just ran through the family.”

Uelese tried the less traditional pathway to earning a playing list spot in the Melbourne Rebels Academy.

After playing juniors at Eltham Rugby Union Club, Uelese made the move back to his birthplace of Wellington to expose himself to the elite environment which surrounds New Zealand’s schoolboy rugby competitions.

“Going back to New Zealand helped develop my game,” he said.

“(Playing in Wellington) probably matured me a bit more, it’s just a different level of rugby.”

Attending Scots College in Wellington, which boasts one of the leading rugby programs in New Zealand, became a perfect place for Uelese to hone his craft.

His stint in across the Tasman resulted in the opportunity to represent the New Zealand Barbarians Schoolboy team, an accolade which Uelese claims as one of his best achievements so far in his young career.

Uelese would then return to Melbourne for what he thought would just be a holiday. Though he didn’t spend much time relaxing, with his holiday resulting in the young forward earning a spot in the Melbourne Rebels Academy.

“I was coming back (to Melbourne) just for (a) holiday originally (however) I did preseason with them and then after that they offered me a spot in the Academy,” Uelese said.

Currently training with the Melbourne Rising Squad, and having played with the Melbourne University Rugby Club in this year’s Dewar Shield, Uelese has continued to develop his game.

Uelese’s hard work culminated in the young prop earning a spot in the Melbourne Rising team’s exhibition match against the Japan Wolfpack A (World Cup extended training squad) side in May.

Making the occasion even more special was the fact that Junior was able to play in the front row alongside his older and Wallaby-capped brother Jordan, who Junior claims to be a “massive influence on my career.”

The Wolfpack side proved to be too strong, but the match gave Uelese an opportunity to play with his brother for the first time in his career, and give him his first taste of rugby at a professional level.

“It was pretty hard coming up against some international players, but it’s a really good experience playing with the Rebels players,” Uelese said.

“Playing with a group of boys who know what they’re doing makes it that little bit easier.”

While he may have missed out on the Rising’s round one game through injury, Uelese is hoping to earn his first Rising Cap when he’s fit and available.

Uelese wants to use the NRC as an opportunity to continue developing his game as a prop, and focus on becoming a physical player, which he believes is a key to his game.