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Samoa to Carlton: Vaomua Laloifi takes the road less travelled

Soon after Laloifi turned five the family decided to move to New Zealand, settling in Hawkes Bay on the North Island, her parents hopeful the move would widen the possibilities for their children.

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Laloifi remembered arriving at school in New Zealand, not knowing English, and nodding her head whenever attention was directed her way in the hope the simple act would be enough to keep her out of the spotlight.

Sport helped her make friends with basketball being her favourite while rugby, as expected, also became part of the family’s sporting ritual. AFL was not even on the horizon as she learned English and Maori at school while continuing to speak Samoan at home.

Then while still a teenager, Laloifi’s world was turned upside down when her parents told her the family was moving across the ditch to Melbourne as her younger brother – Junior – began to show promise in rugby (he eventually played with the Queensland Reds).

She was not impressed at the decision to move to a third country.

“I was at the awkward age at 15 trying to make friends,” Laloifi said.

Soon enough Laloifi was in Melbourne playing basketball and attending Glenroy Secondary College. It didn’t take her long to realise that supporting an AFL team was essential in Melbourne but playing the game seemed a bridge too far.

Even when she left school and her boss at Victoria University, where she worked as a personal trainer, encouraged Laloifi to make up the numbers playing AFL with Old Xavs women’s team, she was reluctant.

“I was like I have no idea so I said ‘no’ and then they didn’t have any players on the bench so she talked me into it,” Laloifi said.

“I had no idea what I was doing. She said, ‘Grab the ball and run and catch it. If you want to kick it, kick it’.”

Laloifi took to the game quickly. She was good, athletic and strong with enough courage to run in straight lines and when she tried out for Collingwood’s VFLW team she was picked.

Catch me if you can: Vaomua Laloifi pictured playing for Collingwood in 2018.

Catch me if you can: Vaomua Laloifi pictured playing for Collingwood in 2018. Credit:Getty Images

“I quickly fell in love with it,” Laloifi said.

“There was a lot more ground to cover than a basketball court so I found it very tiring but I think I more fell in love with the sport because of the environment and how positively the girls get around you.”

Soon she was playing for the Western Bulldogs in the VFLW where Blues recruiters noticed her, impressed enough to add her to their list with pick 52 in this year’s draft.

Less than three years had passed since Laloifi attended that first AFLW match and she was wearing the colours of one of the teams.

Laloifi has noticed the increased demands, combining her job at Victoria University with the pre-season but she is loving playing under Blues coach Daniel Harford.

Vaomua Laloifi, left, and VFLW teammate Simone Ruedin, right, celebrate a win.

Vaomua Laloifi, left, and VFLW teammate Simone Ruedin, right, celebrate a win.Credit:Getty Images

“He makes footy so enjoyable,” Laloifi said.

“He lets us enjoy who we are on and off the field [saying], ‘Don’t hide anything and exploit your strengths’. I really admire him for that.”

And her family and friends in Samoa and New Zealand have noticed her increased profile too, bombarding her with texts and messages after seeing on Facebook that she had been drafted.

“Now they are starting to kick the ball and trying to watch some [games],” Laloifi said.

She is hoping to step straight into the team for round one against Richmond but knows there is still plenty of water to run under the bridge before that happens.

Right now, she is putting in the work, preparing for another step forward on the journey that’s taken her from Samoa to Ikon Park.

“My summer is quite different this season,” Laloifi said.

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