The Houston SaberCats signed Paula Balekana for the 2021 Major League Rugby season. The 27-year-old wing (28 in May) is 6’0” and 198 lbs.
Paula was born in Suva, Fiji, and grew up in Wainibuku. He attended Nasinu Secondary School in Suva before being offered a scholarship when he was 19 to attend Kelston Boys High School and play rugby. He played for Waitemata Rugby Football and Sports Club U21s in 2012 along with the Auckland Sevens.
Paula returned to Fiji in 2013 and after a potential contract did not materialize in New Zealand, he played with Northland in a national Fijian competition.
Paula moved to Australia following a tour there with a Fijian side. In 2016-2017 he played for Gordon in the Shute Shield and was the team’s leading try scorer. In 2017 he played for the Sydney Rays in the National Rugby Championship.
From 2018 through 2020 he played with Zebre Rugby in Pro 14 Rugby and the European Challenge Cup.
Paul Cook in behindtheruck.com describes the difficulties in overcoming poverty. His father was unable to continue working due to an illness when he was 10 years old. This led to his family moving into “‘The Hart’ (The Housing Assistance and Relief Trust), a housing commission providing for the disabled, the aged, and for single-parent families.”
The dream of playing professional rugby, however, for some, allows individuals to create a better life economically with the cost of relocating. This Pacifika diaspora has been a concern globally for many years. The well-being of the rugby players involved may depend on family support, reciprocating family support, living a ‘well-balanced’ life, athletic performance, and personal development away from sports, according to a 2019 study by Caleb Marsters and Jemaima Tiatia-Seath.
For Paula, there have been benefits of playing rugby in other countries. Next for him is his move to the United States and playing Major League Rugby with the Houston SaberCats. Houston has a huge international presence in the city and surrounding area. Players from Fiji, i.e., Osea Kolinisau and Josua Vici, previously have thrived there. Expect that Paula will be well received and will thrive in Houston, and excel for the team.