The LA Giltinis signed Mahe Vailanu through the 2022 Major League Rugby season. The 23-year-old hooker/flanker (24 in January) is 5’10” and 236 lbs.
Mahe recently was named the 2020 Ken Catchpole Winner for the best and fairest player (MVP) in the Shute Shield, Australia’s premier club rugby competition. His team, Gordon, won the championship, which was coached by the new LA Giltinis head coach, Darren Coleman.
Mahe is from Kolovai, Tongatapu, Tonga. He has had an unusual journey in his development as a person and as a rugby player.
In the latest edition of My Rise in My Words, Vailanu tells us his story. “I had to grow up quickly when my parents went on holiday and never returned. When I was about 12 years old I was raised by my older sister and grandmother in Tonga after my parents came to Melbourne on holidays for three months and decided to stay after they fell in love with the city. It was tough, for the first year I couldn’t do anything because I missed my parents but in my second year I got used to it and my friends helped me a lot.
The article went on to say that he played rugby with Tonga U14s, which toured New Zealand, including a game against Auckland Grammar School. This resulted in a scholarship to attend the school in Auckland and he moved in with his aunt and uncle. As a 15-year old he played scrumhalf, then flyhalf, before moving to hooker.
In 2016 he moved to Melbourne, Australia to continue his rugby development and to be near his parents. He played for Harlequin Rugby Melbourne for the Quins Rebels U20s in the new Australian Super 20s program. In 2017 he was part of the Melbourne Rebels U20s, as well as the Rebels’ Emerging Players Program. He also played with the Harlequins in the BLK Dewar Shield Premiership.
In 2017 he joined Melbourne Rising in the National Rugby Championship as a back-row instead of his favored hooker position. In 2018 he moved to Warringah, coached by current Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman and then to Gordon the following two years, joining Coleman.
In 2018, he played with the Melbourne Rebels in the Global Tens competition and made two Super Rugby appearances as a replacement against the Waratahs on 18 March 2018 and on 23 March against the Sharks. He also played with the NSW Country Eagles in 2018.
In 2019 Mahe played with Melbourne Rising in the NRC and joined the Panasonic Wild Knights, a Japanese rugby union team based in Ōta city, Gunma prefecture, which plays in the Top League.
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Vailanu, 23, is a low-slung ball of Tongan productivity as a hooker or back-up flanker with a winning pedigree for the club’s inaugural Major League Rugby season.
The upbeat announcement is also a glowing endorsement of head coach Darren Coleman’s style because Vailanu has signed with LA to play a fourth straight season under his Australian mentor.
“I’m excited to be part of a professional environment full-time and be around the big names of a club like this for the first time,” Vailanu said.
“I’ve played under DC (Coleman) for three years now and I know how much he has developed me because the amount of time he puts in to improve players is unreal.
“We won Gordon’s first premiership in 22 years and we want to win some more.”
There is also toughness to his make-up. He played more than half the game in Gordon’s grand final win with a broken hand and 26 minutes of it with an additional broken rib.
“I guess it was just how much we wanted to win and I stayed out there as long as I could,” said Vailanu, whose left hand is now healing after surgery.
“I know very little about LA but that’s part of the excitement of going to a new club with a good coach who knows how to bring a group of players together with hard work and direction.”
Vailanu’s aggressive, non-stop style is sure to be popular with the Giltinis’ eager rugby community in the countdown to MLR’s March start.
“Mahe has definitely outgrown club football and this move to professional rugby will further develop his skills and impact,” Coleman said.
“He’s always been a natural footballer but he’s now a high-quality hooker with a real future in the game.
“Everyone loves playing with him and his competitive manner is infectious which will be a big asset for the Giltinis.”
The Giltinis will kick off their MLR campaign on the weekend of March 20, 2021, with tickets being available by the end of this year.