Where are they now? Lesley Vainikolo


A Raider, Bull, Kiwi, Cherry, Maritime and then a Rose.

Lesley Vainikolo has been many things. Most of all – a Volcano!

Six foot, two inches and 112kg! This man mountain had a heck of a career.

Born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, the professional career of Vainikolo all began with the Raiders in 1997.

How were defenders supposed to stop him? Vainikolo ran the 100 metres in 10.6 seconds in qualifying for the 1998 World Junior Athletics Championships.

A young Vainikolo had two heroes growing up – Allan Langer and Mal Meninga. So when Vainikolo received a call from Mal Meninga to join the Raiders, he had no hesitation.

He made an immediate impact winning the Raiders Rookie of the Year in 1998. Over the next four seasons, Vainikolo scored 35 tries in 69 appearances for the Raiders including being our top try scorer in 2000 with 13.

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A sign of things to come, while still playing rugby league, Vainikolo played rugby sevens for Tonga at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

He left his biggest impact at the Bradford Bulls in the Super League. In 152 appearances for the Bulls he scored 149 tries! It was enough to get him selected in the Bulls team of the century.

He left rugby league at the height of his powers to dark side – rugby union. He signed for Gloucester and scored five tries on debut!

As a union player, Vainikolo was eligible to play for Tonga by birth, New Zealand by parentage or England by residence. He applied for a British passport and was included in the English squad for the Six Nations Championships in 2008.

For once he didn’t dominate though and after five tryless Tests for England he was dropped and never played International rugby again.

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His star began to fade into rugby union obscurity as his career took him to La Rochelle in France and then finally Rugby Athletic Club Angerien in Saint-Jean-d’Angély in France, where they compete in Federale 1 the third highest competition in France.

It was there that he ended his playing days.

Now 42, Vainikolo is back in New Zealand giving back to the junior community. He coaches secondary school kids rugby at Otahuhu College. He is also the Director of Rugby which shows how much emphasis they place on rugby in the country.

As well as the school, he is also the Chief Operating Officer of sportswear manufacturer Lionfit.

Vainikolo takes his Otahuhu College rugby players through a training drill. Image credit: Kiwi Rugby Central.

For a more detailed view on his entire career read more at Kiwi Rugby Central and their feature “The Prolific Volcano.”

The Green Machine Podcast post player profiles weekly on their Facebook and Instagram pages as well as an Instagram quiz each week on the featured player.

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