From hip hop to halfback: Melani Matavao's unlikely journey to the Cup
The father of Manu Samoa player Melani Matavao, Ielu Matavao, says he will be watching his son realise his own dreams when he takes the field against Scotland in the World Cup - and that could not make him happier.
The 23-year-old Matavao is the only Samoa-based player in the Manu Samoa. He is from Fasito'o Uta, Laulii and Sa'aga Siumu and will start Monday night's game at halfback as Dwayne Polataivao is out with concussion.
Ielu says the rugby talent in the family runs deep including former Manu player Fa'apito Matagitau.
He recalled the days they would play games with sticks and coconut husks for balls.
"But when I tried it, the way I took was hard because of the state my family was in in those days, and I was unable to push for my talent in rugby, but the Lord has answered; my son is now living my dream for me and may God be glorified for this," he told the Samoa Observer at their home in Fasitoo Uta.
Melani is the second of seven children and his father said his status as Samoa's only local representative is a source of great pride for the family.
"We’re proud and glory goes back to God for his skills and his knowledge in the sport, as it was something I always wanted for him," he said.
"There is nobody in our family that is not happy about Melani [being selected] as a representative of Samoa, although there were many that trialled, [he] is the only one from Samoa that made it and may he be a good representative from Samoa in tonight’s game."
Ielu said his son was not always interested in rugby as he was growing up. Melani only found his passion for rugby when he attended Leulumoega College.
"When he was younger, hip hop was his first talent, he would join dance crews and that’s what he did for some time," he said.
"Later on, he came back and said he now knows how to play soccer when he was playing for the Faleata College School. But as time went on and he attended school in Leulumoega [College], he started playing rugby and this is where he found his love for rugby.
"And by the time he was serious about a rugby career; he came to me and asked where he can find the pathway into Manu Samoa.
"I told him, if you do not get into Samoa A, you will never get into Manu Samoa, but at 19-years-old, he answered me by being able to get in."
Melani always had his father's support from the beginning, saying he always advised him to make fitness his top priority.
"I believe it will be a successful game when we stand together because I know my son has gone with foundations of my heart’s desire."
Building up to the game to the Manu Samoa's game against Scotland, Melani's father said he has always given his son the same encouragement over the years.
"When you play, give it your all," he says.
"And that’s what I feel for everyone else who will be playing in tonight’s game but I believe it is the strength of our support that will push our children’s game to be successful.
"May the Lord guide their game tonight and may we stand together to cheer on our boys."
"We will continue to pray that your game ends well, the same goes for all of your (Melani) brothers playing with you on the field. May you all stand united during the game tonight, we love you all."
Melani's 27-year-old brother, Lanny, also had words of encouragement for his brother.
"This won’t be an easy game, if you take our hearts in this game tonight with you all, you will win," he said.
"To my brother: use the ball wisely, make good decisions and don’t rush too much when the game gets busy; just play smart, use your head, it will be a hard game."