Rookie Eliesa Katoa’s standing as one of the NRL’s most promising players has been underlined by the Vodafone Warriors tonight announcing his signing until the end of the 2024 season.
Born in Tonga, the 193cm, 111kg second rower has earned his four-year NRL contract despite playing rugby league for only a year after being a schoolboy rugby union star with the Tamaki College First XV in Auckland.
After impressing so much in his NRL debut from the bench against Newcastle on March 14, Katoa was immediately promoted to start in the second row a week later against Canberra in Robina.
“It was a shock. The whole reason why I’m playing is to help out my family and my Mum’s happy,” he told Warriors TV on Sky Sport tonight.
“As a young player, I’m trying to sort out my future so signing this deal for four years, I’m really happy about it.
“Every time I play, I want to put my best foot forward and just play my best.”
After being signed from Tamaki College, Katoa made his way in his new code playing 11 times in an injury-disrupted season for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in the Jersey Flegg Cup under-20 competition last year before spending the full 2020 preseason with the club’s NRL squad.
He received rave reviews from football staff and teammates alike to earn a call-up for both 2020 NRL trials against the Melbourne Storm and the Wests Tigers.
“He’s a wonderful boy,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney.
“He displays those values every day whether it’s at training or helping Laurie (Hale) by bringing equipment in. You wish you had 30 of them. Eli’s a really important part of our club’s future.”
Vodafone Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck echoed Kearney’s assessment.
“We first saw him as this big Tongan boy, how they breed every Tongan – big and strong,” he said.
“He did a tough preseason with us and has been killing it ever since on the footy park. In our first two games he was our man of the match, so well deserved. The mentality he has now is that all he wants to do is learn, feed off the other players, feed off the coaches and the management staff. I just tell him to keep that growth mindset and wanting to learn.”
Vodafone Warriors head of athletic performance Craig Twentyman says Katoa has exceptional physical ability.
“His strength, power and size are obviously massive attributes for him,” he said.
“What further enhances his physical profile is his energy system or his aerobic capacity and power and that gives him the ability to repeat high intensity efforts right throughout a game.”
Vodafone Warriors recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan has signed a lot of high-quality players and ranks Katoa in the same category.
“The first time I laid eye on him I had the feeling he was something special,” he said.
“In conjunction with Ben Murdoch-Masila signing gives us big athletic strike forwards to base our game around.
“His size, skill, athleticism and his willingness to learn make him an invaluable asset to the Vodafone Warriors.
“Eli has the potential to be the cornerstone of the Vodafone Warriors’ pack for the next decade.”
In his NRL debut against the Knights as Vodafone Warrior #242, gained 144 metres – including a team high 50 post-contact metres – from 17 runs in 52 minutes and made four tackles breaks plus 19 tackles. Only Tuivasa-Sheck topped his metre count.
The following week he was on the field for 65 minutes making 157 metres (including another team-high 60 post-contact metres) from 17 runs plus four tackle breaks and 27 tackles.
Born: March 11, 2000
Birthplace: Hihifo, Tonga
Junior Club: Tamaki College First XV (rugby union)
Position: Second row
Previous Clubs: Nil
NRL Debut: v Newcastle Knights, McDonald Jones Stadium, March 14, 2020 (Round 1)
Vodafone Warriors No: 242
NRL Career: 2 appearances (2020)
NRL Points: 0
NYC Career: 11 appearances (2019)
NYC Points: 12 (3 tries)