Mother proud to watch her son’s World Cup dream come true

Lea Cowley was a very proud mother on Monday night, watching her son Pele make his Rugby World Cup debut off the bench for Samoa against Scotland.

“It’s always been his dream and I’m just so glad that dream is happening for him,” she said prior to the game.

The “surreal” feeling of watching her son play on the game’s biggest stage was made all the more special by that debut coming against Scotland, who fielded Pele’s cousin Sean Maitland on the left wing.

Lea said Pele was very close with the Maitlands, especially Sean, and the pair lived and breathed rugby:

“They always talked rugby growing up.

“Pele spent school holidays in Hamilton when they moved from Tokoroa.”

Both players were born in the small Waikato town (2018 population estimate 14,050), before the Cowleys moved up to Auckland when Pele was about two and a half years old.

Lea’s parents came over from Samoa and settled in Tokoroa in 1955, the beginnings of a Samoan community that would soon grow:

“It was big in the 60s and 70s, my parents were among the first Samoans there.”

Employment was the driver of that thanks to New Zealand Forest Products’ Kinleith Mill, a huge pulp and paper operation.

“There was a booming economy at the time, and then the privatisation happened and a lot left,” Lea said.

“We were the family that hosted many Samoans that came to Tokoroa and stayed with us…, so growing up our house was always full.”

Pele and Sean are only the latest Samoan sports stars to come out of Tokoroa, a town that also produced All Black Keven Mealamu and Silver Fern Maria Folau (née Tutaia).

Given the age gap between them (Maitland is now 31, Cowley 26) and shared passion for rugby, Sean was a natural role model for Pele as he grew up.

“There’s a photo when they were young, when he had Sean’s NZ Secondary Schools jersey on,” Lea said.

Pele was able to follow in his cousin’s footsteps, coming through rep teams in Auckland before making the grade at provincial level with Waikato and becoming professional.

And then on Monday night, he joined Sean in having played at a Rugby World Cup.

Lea said her heart was so full to see them playing each other, and she received so many messages from family and friends back home in New Zealand.

She’s following the team around Japan for the rest of their games too, backing them all the way:

“My heart’s in Samoa.”

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