The Los Angeles Giltinis confirmed that Watson Filikitonga, their first selection of the Major League Rugby Draft, has signed with the team for 2021. The team traded their first-round pick, the second selection of the draft to NOLA Gold in exchange for NOLA Gold’s second-round pick, as well as for a foreign player slot in 2021. The 23-year-old center is 6’1″ and 218 lbs.
Watson was born in Tonga but raised in San Mateo, California, and attended San Mateo High School. He concentrated on football while in high school and was a running back and middle linebacker. His brother, USA Eagle #470 center Lemoto Filikitonga finally got him into Rugby at the end of high school before he graduated in 2015.
He considered attending the University of Hawaii, However, Iona College Head Coach Bruce McLane recruited him and he’s been a physical presence in the Gael’s Midfield as a ball carrier and defender.
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Watson is now at that stage where his potential can explode in a full-time rugby program under the leadership of the Giltinis coaching roster, following a successful stint at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.
“I wasn’t even sure I’d be picked up in the draft so for LA to give me this chance has given me a whole lot of confidence,” Filikitonga said.
“The setting in LA, learning from a great coaching staff, molding things together so we really start something at a new club…everything super-excites me about this.”
Filikitonga will become a tackle-shredding and bumping favorite for Giltinis fans at the Santa Monica-based club with his physical style.
His secret weapon has been having big brother Lemoto, 27, who played a Test for the US Eagles against Canada as a center in 2016 in his corner, to advise, coach, and confide in during his transition from American football.
“My brother trains me three times a week so that’s coaching and answering questions I might never have got,” said Watson, who lives in San Mateo, outside San Jose.
“My brother got me into rugby and I’ve only really taken it on since 2017.
“In American football, it’s a one-man game (as a running back) but in rugby, you have to always be aware of your surroundings and work on your pass to involve your teammates.”
Coleman knows all too well the value of hard-running centers. “Watson Filikitonga is all that’s great about MLR,” Coleman said.
“He’s got a college degree, he was picked by us in the draft and now has an opportunity to develop into a professional rugby player by learning from some of the game’s best around him.
“It’s a system like this that talented rugby athletes in North America have been crying out for and will be the reason the Eagles climb the world rankings over the next few years.
“I’m excited to work with an all-around talent like Watson… big, fast, and powerful.”