The Melbourne Rebels have bid farewell to one of their favourite sons, with local born and bred prop Fereti Sa’aga announcing his retirement from professional rugby to his teammates and coaches last week at the Club.
The popular front rower says while he’s cherished his time at the Stockade and representing his home town, he has made the difficult decision entirely of his own accord to resign from the contract he had in place with the Rebels through to the end of 2022.
Sa’aga, a loving and dedicated husband and father of four, has developed and matured into a core member of the Rebels playing squad in recent years and has been wrestling with the balance of his rugby and faith (Seventh Day Adventist) in his life over the last 18 months.
He said he felt at peace to be ending his professional career to focus more upon his family and faith.
Sa’aga retires having been part of a very special first wave of local “Burn City” representatives to graduate to Super Rugby.
A product of the Northern Panthers and Melbourne University clubs, Sa’aga was a part of the inaugural Melbourne Rising NRC squad in 2014, before making his Rebels debut against the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2017.
“It was super special – becoming a Rebel was always a goal I set out to achieve when I left school,” says Sa’aga.
“It’s just an incredible feeling to be part of history being one of the first local boys to put on the jersey and represent the city.
“It’s also special, when thinking of all the players who are part of the rugby community that aspire to be a professional athlete - it means a lot to me and it’s truly a blessing.”
“Thank you so much for the cooperation of the Melbourne Rebels, it has been a smooth transition for me (to retirement). Thank you so much to the fans, and all my coaches, and my friends and family who have been with me along this journey, since day dot.”
Sa’aga would go on to play 25 Super Rugby games across three seasons for the Rebels, with his fondest memory coming from the famous last-minute win (19-17) over the Brumbies at AAMI Park in 2017.
“It was my first season and I had managed to put a couple of games together for the start of my career, and to be able to finally play at home in Melbourne, it was pretty special and definitely one of my favourite memories,” he recounts.
While he has always “stuck really tight with his Melbourne boys” which included Rob Leota, Jordan Uelese and Pone-Fa’amausili, Sa’aga paid tribute to a handful of past and present players who have influenced his development during the early stages of his career.
“When I first started, Jordy Reid was someone who took me under his wing and picked me up from my place and took me to training when we were at Visy Park. I would never tell him this, but I was always starstruck every time he would offer me a ride,’ he laughs.
“Guys like Pat Leafa as well; even the boys today like Gus Cottrell and Tom English, they were the guys that helped me out early on.”
“Anaru Rangi who was another one who helped me understand what it was like to lead by example on and off the field, so he was one of the crucial guys for me as well.”
Sa’aga’s announcement was a surprise for many players within the Rebels squad, but for those who know him well, it was another sign of the strength and dedication that defines Fereti’s character and has contributed to the player and man he has become.
Melbourne Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson led the Club’s recruitment of Sa’aga several years ago and acknowledged that this has been an evolving process.
“Fereti has been a real trail blazer for the Rebels and he has been a great role model young Melburnians. We are very proud of the player and person that he has become and he will always be a special part of our Club,’ said Stephenson.
“This is obviously a very unique situation and Fereti has been really open with us over the last year with his feelings towards his rugby and his faith. I know from speaking with him that he has a sense of peace having made this decision and that he can move forward knowing that he can fully serve his faith and respect the seventh day, which had been playing on his mind.
"As a Club, we have supported and been flexible with Fereti and he was certainly a part of our plans for the next couple of years. At the same time we absolutely respect his wishes and this very sincere decision that he has made.”
Reflecting upon his own Victorian rugby experience, Sa’aga says the greatest change he’s seen has been Rugby Victoria’s commitment to growing the women’s game; something which he’s been thrilled to see.
“Just seeing how important it is and the impact it has had for women in rugby to play and experience the camaraderie, putting on that jersey and representing your team, it’s been huge.”“Seeing not only the girls but my sister and my two cousins that were involved in the (Super-W) team, seeing the joy in their faces and what rugby brings, it just speaks volumes and shows just how far Victorian rugby has come.”
“There’s been massive improvements and while there’s still a long way to go, it’s looking in good stead.”
The Melbourne Rebels thank Fereti Sa’aga, Rebel # 107, and congratulate Fereti on his professional Rugby career. We know that Fereti will long remain a close friend of the Club and Rugby in Victoria, and we look forward to seeing him succeed in his next life chapter.