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24-year-old Salesi Rayasi has made his impression felt at the Hurricanes this year. He sits down to talk rugby, rest and recreation with Matthew Casey.
Despite a patchy start to 2021 and with only two wins in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Hurricanes have been impressive in Super Rugby’s Trans-Tasman competition. For ‘Canes fans there hasn’t been too much excitement for the season, but now there is a buzz around what’s to come when they face the Queensland Reds this Friday, and there is clearly a player to keep your eye on.
After a stint representing the All Black Sevens in the World Sevens Series, local winger Salesi Rayasi is now putting on his boots for the Hurricanes. Despite being one of the country’s top try-scorers this year – and one of the few Super Rugby players offered the chance to go to the Olympics for Sevens – he turned it down and is putting his heart into Wellington’s favourite rugby team.
“I’m enjoying the 15’s scene more,” explains Rayasi. “I wanted to be a part of the Hurricanes trying to win.”
The Hurricanes are riding a momentum train. “Compared to the start of the season, when we were quite static and stagnant,” says Rayasi. After their win against the Highlanders in the final round of Super Rugby Aotearoa, everyone was pretty excited. It was their second against the Highlanders, which got everyone excited, he says, because “the ‘Landers had been playing well”.
Although he’s spent several years playing rugby in Auckland, he plans on being a ‘Cane for the long run, and, with his family, calls Silverstream home. Despite missing Auckland’s weather, he plans to “stay for another two years.”
Rayasi is happy where he’s at and committed to giving his all to the team. On his off days, he’s smart with his down time.“When you’re always on it can burn you out. It’s quite taxing”. He likes to play golf with his father, Filipe Rayasi, a former Wellington Lion, and team mate Liam Mitchell.
He’s not too proud of his 15 golf handicap, and jokes about his dad having a 10 – “he’s a ‘burglar’, he doesn’t hand his score cards in.” Salesi played junior golf at Shandon. “It was like my summer sport growing up. My dad would take me there. I played that before rugby. I think that it was just an excuse for my dad to play golf too.”
Sometimes he and his dad chill at the Speights Ale House. “Less is better, you don’t want to overload in your off time.”
This is also Rayasi’s reasoning for not returning to his studies of Land and Property Valuation, which he started at Lincoln. He says his mum is pushing him to do it, but in the thick of the season, it may be hard to find the right balance.
He wasn’t always planning on a professional rugby career – in high school, he wanted to pursue basketball, “I was playing rugby because I was just playing rugby. I wasn’t really enjoying it.” Between years 9 and 10 he decided to play basketball and “loved the sport.”
“I play golf because it’s not as taxing as basketball,” But if he sees someone playing basketball he can’t help but have a scrimmage. “I’ll have a bit of a muck around and then after that I’m exhausted.”
While he was at St Pats, he operated in a small radius. “It was pretty much our school fence, from the Hutt River to New World on the other side of the train tracks. We had the Hometown Roast, Subway, McDonalds, the Petrol station and that was pretty much our stoop. Someone would put on a movie or on a Friday night the rugby league would be on. We had the gym, basketball gym and during summer we had the pool – I didn’t really need to go out.”
He was born in Wellington but the family quickly moved to the Te Kuiti area, with his dad playing for King Country in the first year of his life. His family then relocated to Japan, where Rayasi spent his pre-school years. He looks back fondly on his childhood there, and laments that after they moved back his English quickly overtook his Japanese.
He sees himself possibly returning to Japan in the future, and wants to take language lessons. “In 2019 there were a couple of Japanese boys in our squad and we’d practice, talking everyday Japanese. They’d fill in the gaps and I’d return the favour with English.”
Looking forward with his career, he wants to make sure he succeeds with the task at hand. When the prospect of one day making the All Blacks is mentioned, he says humbly that he would like to put his hand up: “If it’s there, it’s there, it’s just an extra bonus.” For the moment, his priority is to give his all to the Hurricanes.
At only 24 years of age, Salesi Rayasi does seem to have the world at his boots. From Japan to Wellington, rugby to golf, he seems to have a maturity beyond his years. Judging by his output so far, the future looks more than promising.