Filipo already in a rugby league of his own
Fourteen-year-old in a league of his ownTIM BARTON
COLLEGE SPORT WRITER
Losi Filipo has bypassed the sporting pecking order.
The softly spoken 14-year-old should be showing his wares in the junior ranks, preparing for the time when he will take on the big boys.
But he's not. The St Pat's Silverstream year 10 pupil is already mixing it with the big boys, in both rugby and rugby league.
He should be out of his league but is more than holding his own.
He played a significant role in the Silverstream first XV that won the Wellington premier one rugby title and this month made an impression on the national stage, for the New Zealand under-16 rugby league team.
Filipo, who is already contracted to the Warriors, was the youngest player in the national under-16 side and the sole Wellington representative, but impressed his team-mates to the extent that he was voted the players' player of the tournament.
"That was a big accolade for a boy from Wellington, considering that about 80 per cent of the team were from Auckland," under-16 coach Jeff Whittaker said. "He was a year younger than the rest but punched above his weight."
Filipo was an outside back for the Silverstream first XV but keeps close to the action in league, playing at either prop or the second row and was used as a prop for the under-16 side.
"He's very skilful and mentally and physically tough," Whittaker said. "He has the attitude to go a long way.
"It wouldn't surprise me if, in five or six years, he was playing in the NRL.
"He's a very good kid. We never got boo out of him but he had a smile right across his face for the whole tour."
Filipo, who lives in Porirua but is a boarder at Silverstream, has been playing league for the Porirua Vikings since early in his primary school days.
He relishes the physical intensity of the game and his eyes light up when he describes his role as a prop. "I love making the first hit up and sparking up the boys. I definitely enjoy the physical side."
He regards the trip to Queensland with the national under-16 side as the high point of his career.
"I hadn't expected to be picked for the team - not at my age - and it was an awesome experience to represent your country."
The under-16 players were presented with their jerseys by former internationals and NRL players Clinton Toopi and Aaron Whittaker and none of the players let the jerseys stray far. "I kept mine next to me, on the bed, and some of the boys slept in them," Filipo said.
The New Zealand side won both their games, despite having a limited buildup and playing in hot conditions, winning their main match, against a Queensland Academy under-16 side, 28-26.
The Queensland side had had plenty of experience together, but Filipo had met most of his team-mates for the first time just a week earlier.
Filipo, a South Sydney Rabbitohs fan, first attracted interest from rugby league scouts at a Melbourne Storm training camp in Wellington late last year.
However, a proposed training camp in Melbourne at Easter had to be cancelled and he was signed by the Warriors this year.
A professional sporting career is still some years off but the interest shown in Filipo by NRL clubs is an indication of his potential.
Meanwhile, his focus this week will be on helping the Wellington Orcas under-15 side make the final of the Nathan Cayless Cup. The Orcas play Akarana at Porirua on Sunday and a win would put the Wellington side into the final, against Counties Manukau, a week later.
The Wellington under-17 side will also be seeking a final spot when they meet Akarana this weekend.
League remains Filipo's sporting priority but will not be his only option, with his rugby career progressing at pace.
Filipo, who weighs 89 kilograms, did not begin playing rugby till his final year at intermediate but has adapted quickly.
Few players establish a first XV starting place in year 10, especially at traditional rugby schools like Silverstream, and Filipo, who won the award for the best back in the Silverstream side, was the youngest player in the premier one final.
His school coach, Rob Ackerman, represented Wales at rugby and rugby league and has no doubt that Filipo can master both codes.
"He's certainly a gifted footballer - and by that I mean union and league - and has tremendous potential," Ackerman said. "I've watched him play league and he's fearless.
"We haven't seen the best of him in rugby union and he will continue to develop.
"He's very competitive - he doesn't like to lose - and is very mature, physically and mentally, for his age.
"He's very powerful in the hip area and hard to defend against when he's got the ball in hand.
"He also does a lot of work on defence and made a try-saving tackle in the [rugby] final.
"We will do some sprint work with him over the summer and he will come back quicker next year," Ackerman said.
Silverstream's 6-3 final win over Wellington College was the high point of Filipo's rugby season. "It was nerve-racking and we were on defence all day but it was a great feeling."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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