Mahe Vailanu has come a long way since his childhood in a small village playing football with a sandal instead of a ball.
Mahe Vailanu has come a long way since his childhood in a small village playing football with a sandal instead of a ball.

‘We didn’t have a rugby ball. We used to play with sandals’

Mahe Vailanu never dreamt of being a rugby player as a kid - the idea just seemed too far fetched.

He didn't play with a ball until the under 12s, instead throwing around anything that he could get his hands on - mostly his sandals - with his mates.

At various times he was told he was too small to play, not fast enough, carrying a little too much weight.

SWITCH: From Penrith Panthers to Shute Shield GF

Gordon's Mahe Vailanu coming up against Eastwood’s Tane Edmed in the regular season. Pic: Karen Watson.
Gordon's Mahe Vailanu coming up against Eastwood’s Tane Edmed in the regular season. Pic: Karen Watson.


NO FRILLS: No twerking, dance moves for this rugby star

SHUTE SHIELD: The competitions danger men

Now, at age 23, he has proved the right fit for a Gordon rugby side intent on pulling off a fairytale finish to a fairytale season in the Shute Shield on Saturday.

"I grew up in Tonga in a village. It was pretty small. Everyone would hunt their own food," said Vailanu, who has five brothers and a sisters and is now based on Sydney's north shore.

"I thought I would just do the same as everyone else.

"When I was 10 I followed one of my mates who went to training.

"We didn't have a rugby ball. We used to play with sandals. I played rugby with a ball for the under 12s for the first time."

Vailanu's break came when selected in a Tongan under 14's team for a tour to New Zealand where he played Auckland Grammar, the school which offered him a rugby scholarship the next year as a 15-year-old.

 

Gordon's Mahe Vailanu in the match against Eastwood. Pic: Karen Watson.
Gordon's Mahe Vailanu in the match against Eastwood. Pic: Karen Watson.

 

GAME CHANGERS: Gordon players to watch

LOYAL: Why this players stayed during the tough times

 

At the end of school he moved to Melbourne to be closer to his mother and father who had moved there from Tonga and joined the Melbourne Rebels program,

"I got to play three games for the Rebels. I wasn't signed. I was an injury cover. It was a great experience," he said.

Vailanu then moved to Sydney for more opportunity in the Shute Shield and to press his claims for a spot in future Waratahs programs.

After a stint at Warringah, the hooker in 2019 joined a Gordon team rebuilding after finishing with the wooden spoon in 2018.

 

Mahe Vailanu, in action here against the Newcastle Wildfires, has played a major role in Gordon’s success.
Mahe Vailanu, in action here against the Newcastle Wildfires, has played a major role in Gordon’s success.

MORE RUGBY

 

SURGERY: Young rugby gun a model of determination

INCREDIBLE: Footballer plays with four broken bones

SPEEDSTER: How this rugby star rebuilt himself

BROTHERS: Family history for Gordon siblings

SEVENS HEAVEN: For comeback gun

GRAND FINAL: Good omen for Gordon ahead of decider

 

Now he's heading to a grand final with the Darren Coleman coached side.

"Everyone gets around each other, we know each other well," said Vailanu, one of Gordon's most prolific scorers this season.

"We had a three day camp at the start of the competition and went to Hunter Valley and got to know each other.

"It was a great bonding session. I think it made a big difference for us."

 

SHUTE SHIELD GRAND FINAL

Saturday at Leichhardt Oval (3pm AEDT)

Gordon v Eastwood

Live TV on 7Two and 7plus

 

 

Originally published as 'We didn't have a rugby ball. We used to play with sandals'



CQ woman launches her own brand of alcohol

Premium Content CQ woman launches her own brand of alcohol

She has joined the distilling industry as one of the few all-female founded and...

Hefty donation helps keep region’s rescue helicopter in air

Premium Content Hefty donation helps keep region’s rescue helicopter in air

A generous mining company will donate $30,000 annually over the next three years to...

Coastal gem hits market for first time in 25 years

Premium Content Coastal gem hits market for first time in 25 years

Owners have listed the ocean front property for an easy $2.2m.