Eliesa Katoa’s rapid rise to NRL football shows the importance of the club’s Sky Sport Future Warriors programme – and there have been other success stories as well.
The 20-year-old Katoa was part of the club’s Jersey Flegg Cup under-20 squad last season and, after an exceptional preseason campaign, was called in to make his NRL debut in the opening round of the interrupted 2020 season.
His rise follows two outstanding prospects from the Sky Sport Future Warriors programme being singled out as the best in their age categories in the country.
Halfback Cassius Cowley won the New Zealand Rugby League 2019 U16s Player of the Year award after a remarkable 2019 season that saw him captain the Vodafone Warriors 16s team, named MVP at the North Island 17s tournament as well as picking up the MVP accolade for the New Zealand 16s in their international against Toa Samoa in October.
While Cowley collected the honours in his age group, hooker Temple Kalepo was named the NZRL 18s 2019 Player of the Year. The Ellerslie junior made his debut for the Vodafone Warriors in the Jersey Flegg Cup and then the Canterbury Cup NSW competition before taking the field for the Junior Kiwis against the Australian Schoolboys. He was also named in the New Zealand 18s for their internationals with France and Toa Samoa.
Junior Clubs: Pacific Sharks (Tokoroa), Pikiao Warriors (Rotorua)
2018 | Waicoa Bay 15s, Bay of Plenty 15s, Pikiao Warriors
2019 | Waicoa Bay 17s, Bay of Plenty 17s, Sky Sport Future Warriors 16s, New Zealand 16s, New Zealand Maori 16s
2020| Vodafone Warriors S G Ball Cup, NZ 18s Squad
Cowley joined the Sky Sport Future Warriors academy after being identified playing for the Pikiao Warriors 15s at the New Zealand Maori Rangatahi tournament in 2018.
He was one of the 18 players from the New Zealand Residents 16s 19-man squad to participate in the Sky Sport Future Warriors programme with 12 players signing on to join the club.
The Tokoroa native began his junior football career playing for Pacific Sharks before moving to Rotorua’s Pikao Warriors after attending Rotorua Boys’ High School.
“Cass’ strength is his ability to take the ball to line,” said Sky Sport Future Warriors programme manager Jordan Friend.
“He creates a lot of indecision for defenders and often leads to line breaks.
“This offseason we brought him up for a full preseason with the S G Ball Cup team and had him staying at Autex House. He really enjoyed the experience and we’re excited about his progress.
“Unfortunately, he was limited to just one opportunity with the S G Ball squad after having a family bereavement and then suffering an unlucky facial injury following his debut.”
Junior Club: Ellerslie Eagles
2017 | Akarana 15s, New Zealand 16s, Academy
2018 | Akarana 17s, New Zealand Residents 16s, Vodafone Warriors Jersey Flegg Cup
2019 | Vodafone Warriors Jersey Flegg Cup, Vodafone Warriors Canterbury Cup , New Zealand Residents 18s, Junior Kiwis (under 20s)
2020 | Vodafone Warriors Canterbury Cup
Temple joined the club after being identified playing for the Ellerslie Eagles and then impressing in the inaugural Pasifika Youth Cup for Hakula Tonga Under 15s.
“Temple is a part of a new generation at the club,” said Friend.
“He came into the club at 15 with a few other leading young players and continually developed at his time at the club.”
The young hooker made his Jersey Flegg Cup debut at the age of 17 in 2018 before playing both Jersey Flegg and Canterbury Cup last season.
“Off field he is an intelligent and driven individual. While he is a very aggressive competitor on the field in particular and is such a confident defender for a young player playing above his age-group level.”
The promising hooker was educated at King’s College in Auckland and in his last years balanced First XV commitments and last year played a handful of First XV games including the Auckland 1A final.
“Temple played on the wing and at centre at First XV level and, although very much a league player, it did showcase his athleticism to play in those positions and still be a standout.”
After a successful 2019 campaign Kalepo was selected for the Junior Kiwis and then enjoyed a full preseason with the NRL squad.