The New England Free Jacks signed Paula Balekana for the 2022 Major League Rugby season. The 28-year-old wing (29 in May) is 5’11” and 225 lbs.
Paula played 1277 minutes in 16 starts and was the team-leading try-scorer, with 6 tries. He carried 147 times for 1,421 meters, ranking second in the MLR, and was a serious threat with the ball, ranking 1st in the league in both line and tackle-breaks picking up 21 and 64 respectively.
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. In 2021 he moved to the United States and began playing Major League Rugby with the Houston SaberCats. He now moves across the country to play with the Free Jacks
New England Free Jacks Comments
The Free Jacks are excited to announce the signing of former Sabercat wing, Paula Balekana, on a one-year contract. Balekana is a sizable back who has already proven himself to be one of the most impactful players in the MLR.
“So excited and humbled to be part of the New England Free Jacks. Looking forward to a great season ahead,” exclaimed Balekana on the next chapter in his rugby career.
“When inquiring about Paula’s time in the Pro 14 last year, we were advised that we would be silly not to give Paula an opportunity with the Free Jacks,” commented Free Jacks Performance Director, Tom Kindley. “After watching him stand out on a struggling team last season we were not prepared to make the same mistake twice and are delighted he will be translocating to New England.”
“He’s highly regarded as a teammate and is underrated for his defensive ability and rugby IQ, on top of his ability to shed defenders at will. We hope to see a smile on his face and many trademark swan dives this year.”