Sione Palaa’s rugby aspirations have just been given a gigantic leg up.
The St Kevin’s College loose head prop was awarded a rugby and study scholarship to Life University, an elite rugby university in Atlanta, USA, by the North Otago Rugby Football Union.
“It’s a big opportunity for me and my family, you don’t get these opportunities a lot,” Palaa said.
He was “really excited” but also a bit scared at the prospect of playing rugby in the United States, he said.
After discovering his eligibility for the scholarship during this year’s rugby season and then securing it, Palaa said his first thought was “I can’t believe it”.
Rugby in Atlanta would be “a big step up” over Oamaru, where he played for St Kevin’s College this year.
“I reckon I’ll do all right.”
Palaa said in the seven years he had been playing rugby, he had always wished for an opportunity such as this to come along, and getting to play all over the world would be amazing.
The 18-year-old said his loyalty to North Otago would always be there though.
“I made a promise I would come back and play for North Otago.
“It would be good to give something back to North Otago for what they’ve given me.”
SKC First 15 coach Justin Fowler said he was “over the moon” at Palaa’s selection for the NORFU scholarship.
He had worked hard and had improved immensely over this year’s rugby season, so deserved the scholarship, Fowler said.
When asked who he thought would be suitable for the scholarship, Palaa came to mind, Fowler said.
He was not surprised he got the scholarship but was glad others saw what he saw in Palaa, he said.
North Otago Rugby chief executive Colin Jackson said the recipient of the NORFU scholarship needed “a combination of intellect and rugby skills” to be suitable.
Palaa’s skills had developed enormously over this year’s rugby season and he exemplified what a scholarship recipient needed.
He would do well in the states, Jackson said.
The NORFU and Life University were in discussions over an American player coming to play club rugby in North Otago in 2014 as an exchange, Jackson said.
“The NORFU is strategically building international rugby relationships and we hope that Sione will be the first of many reciprocal rugby exchanges”.
Palaa leaves for the USA on January 15.
By DAVID DE LOREAN
PHOTO: DAVID DE LOREAN