Premier Rugby: Will try scoring machine Viliami Lea be the breakout star of 2020?

By Finn Morton; Photo – Kev Nagle

Viliami Lea has the potential to be the breakout player in Queensland Premier Grade rugby for 2020.

After debuting in Premier Grade last year against Sunnybank before adding one more cap to his name, the no-nonsense winger is out to make his mark in the upcoming campaign with the Magpies.

In 2019, Lea starred for Souths’ premiership winning colts side where he scored an unbelievable 20-tries.

He was rewarded for his hard work and impressive performances with a return to the Queensland Country U19 Rugby Championship squad, and selection in the first camp of 2020 for the Junior Wallabies.

Lea was confident in saying that he’s ready to become a first grade regular; owing thanks to Todd Dammers and the other coaches who have made the transition seamless so far.

“I was involved with the squad last year, got two games out of it so I was hoping to at least be a bit more involved with this especially with Todd coming,” Lea said.

“To be fair, our colts team trained pretty hard last year. Our strength and conditioning and stuff, we went pretty hard. It’s been a step-up but it’s mostly the same. The whole coaching staff from the colts has gone into the Prem system.”

“I’ve learnt a lot off him (Todd Dammers) but not just him. We’ve had Chris Latham in at the start of the year, he’s been massive. Same as Mafi Kefu, he’s been huge for me as well. They’ve all helped me develop as a player and more of a winger as well – I kind of understand the position more.”

“I’m pretty confident. I feel that I’d be somewhere in that squad or even in the starting fifteen maybe.”

It wasn’t until his senior year at Ipswich Grammar School that coach David Eagle suggested he switch to the then unfamiliar position of wing after playing his junior rugby in the back row.

The 19-year-old couldn’t be happier to have made the switch, having not looked back since making the move.

“It was under-fifteens when I played my first game at twelve and I think I did okay there.

“After that, I was sixteen and I went to thirteen and I think it was Dave Eagle decided, ‘yeah let’s chuck this kid on the wing and see what happens.’ It’s seemed to have worked so far.”

“I really don’t know (if I’d be where I am now) but I’m kind of glad that I did make that switch because especially in the back row, it’s the most sought-after position in every team.”

When Lea moved to Souths after graduating, the Magpies were struggling on the field.

He made it his mission along with other fresh faces, to change the culture when he got there and so began the long yet impactful road towards the 2019 colts title.

“That was huge. When we first came in at the end of 2017 we came to Souths and there was a core squad of boys all starting there. We all came in and we were like, ‘okay, this place is broken let’s try and change the culture, change the way people think about Souths.’

“In 2017, they won one game or zero games or something like that. We’ve come in 2018, put in a lot of work and we just tried to bring it from there.

“I think it’s a pretty cool story coming from the bottom of the table to eventually winning the thing.

“To change the culture, when we were here there was a bit of negativity around the aura of Souths, especially with their younger age groups.

“There were obviously a few colts’ groups that were huge and very successful but the standard we wanted to bring was different, we wanted to change it up.”

Souths Head Coach Todd Dammers spoke passionately about the up and coming winger, saying that he has plenty of potential but that it’s all up to him to make the most of it.

“Vili is a great kid, full of energy, eager to learn and keen to make an impact for whatever team he plays for.

“Vili tasted first-grade last year and has the capacity to be a major threat in first grade. He scored 20 tries in 2019 which shows he is a genuine try-scoring threat.

“He just needs to keep working on the little elements in his game and he will play a big role in first grade.

“He’s been a crowd favourite from game one of colts. I am certain if he keeps working as hard as he has, the club faithful will get to see a bit of Vil charging down that left-hand edge in 2020.”