Breakout Backrower Vaiolini Ekuasi has signed a new contract with the Melbourne Rebels, keeping him with the Club until the end of the 2025 Super Rugby Pacific season.
The 21-year-old former New Zealand Under-20s rep was chased by rival clubs, including from his home country, but chose to stay in Melbourne under the guidance of Head Coach Kevin Foote and his coaching group.
Ekuasi has been one of many players to blossom under the newly reappointed coaching trio of Foote, Sampson, and Parling, which is a testament to the connection born from the culture of Ubuntu that Foote has instilled in the playing squad.
“There was an opportunity to go home, but I pretty much told my agent that I’m happy where I am.” Ekuasi said.
“Footey (Kevin Foote) and Geoff Parling, they make the environment pretty fun to come into, I’m keen to come in and work, train, and get better at my craft.”
After an impressive first three games off the bench Ekuasi moved into the Starting Fifteen , with his season highlight being a performance at home against the Reds in Round 5, which he capped off with his first try in Super Rugby.
"I wasn't expecting to play as many minutes as I am right now, but obviously I'm grateful.
“The exposure to Rob Leota, Richard Hardwick, and Brad Wilkin, they're some good mentors who are leading the way. It just makes my job easier and I'm able to go out there with a clear mind and just do what I'm good at."
Melbourne Rebels GM of Rugby Nick Stiles said he was thrilled that Ekuasi showed his faith in the culture being built in Burn City.
“Vaiolini has been nothing but fantastic since he arrived at AAMI Park late last year, and we are rapt that he has chosen to further his development with Kevin and his coaching group in Melbourne.
“We believe we are building a culture here that allows players to get the best out of themselves, and he has gone from strength to strength since the season has started. Ever since the opportunity to come to Melbourne presented itself he hasn’t looked back.”
It hasn’t just been his football that has kept in grounded in Melbourne, he’s been able to reconnect with his sisters who were already living here and recently his partner has been able to move to Melbourne to join him as well.
“Getting to reconnect with my sisters, nieces, and nephews has been good. I also have my partner and my dog (move over), it’s made that transition a lot easier, just having that support.” Ekuasi said.
“My family are the rock of my journey. They’ve been there for me through school, and now to move over here and continue what I’m doing, my parents are really proud.”
Before moving to Melbourne, Ekuasi won selection in New Zealand’s much-heralded National Under-20's side, then signed with Auckland for the 2021 National Provincial Championship (NPC) where he worked under the watchful eye of All Blacks stars Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, and Hoskins Sotutu.
Twelve months later, the flanker would achieve Super Rugby honours, running out for the Blues in their opening match against Moana Pasifika before moving across the Tasman late last year to join the Rebels.