NRL-bound talent ready to rule roost in Langer Cup
MEET the six foot four 101kg 17-year-old Sydney Roosters contracted centre who could have been a pro basketballer Ipswich State High School will unleash on the Langer Cup this year.
Set to terrorise opponents, Evander Tere-Rongotaua is strong, powerful and remarkably agile for his size.
The New Zealand under-16 basketball representative also possesses a sublime set of hands, as well as footballing nous. Most ominously for rivals however, he is armed with the self-belief and drive to ascend all the way into the rugby league stratosphere.
“I want to be a stand-up player,” Tere-Rongotaua said.
“Like a superstar.”
His is a dream born from hardship. Growing up 15 minutes north of Wellington in the harbour city of Porirua, a low socio-economic area rife with poverty, crime and gang violence, life was not easy.
“It was tough,” he said.
“You had to work for everything. You are in the ghetto, so you don’t really get too much attention or help. Footy kind of saved my area from that. It took all of the attention away from the violence and drug abuse.”
Fortunate to have a supportive family, sport offered an alternative lifestyle, a positive outlet and a way out.
Signed by glamour club the Roosters in 2016 after scouts first spotted him dominating a national under-15 tournament in New Zealand and later carving up a local 9s tournament, the proud Cook Islander has overcome the systemic oppression facing him. He is well on the path to reaching his ultimate goal like hero, countryman and future clubmate Joseph Manu.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said when asked about the prospect of linking with the tricolours full-time upon graduation and learning from master coach Trent Robinson when he eventually cracks the top flight.
“Hopefully, I get to that point.”
Landing in Australia in November 2018, the dynamic athlete has been staying with his aunt, fending off home sickness and adjusting to life in the Sunburnt Country without the love and support of his parents and siblings.
Due to appear for Met West and Wynnum Manly, he has been robbed of crucial opportunities for development by the cancellation of the Mal Meninga Cup and Queensland School Sport carnival but continues to chart a trajectory to the NRL under the watchful eye of Ipswich High head coach Josh Bretherton and his expert staff since joining the elite rugby league excellence program in February.
“Playing a state champs or a Mal Meninga Cup is going to add value because they’re high level comps and you are always going to learn something,” Bretherton said.
“Luckily for Evander it has affected everyone who is under-20, so he is not singularly disadvantaged. The advantage he has got is he is going to spend 12 months with us. We like to think we can help instil all of those things that other players might have to have something like a Mal Meninga system to do. He is still going to get regular training and feedback, so it’s just the game time he is going to miss out on and that competitive element that athletes have to learn as well.
“Evander is lucky enough to be contracted, so his goal for the next two years is to do everything he can to prepare himself to make the most of the next two years. That’s really go to be his focus - how can I add value to ensure that contract gets extended.”
Ipswich High is renowned for fast-tracking player development and opening up vocational opportunities and Tere-Rongotaua, who aspires to be a personal trainer should his rugby league career not go to plan, is already going from strength-to-strength.
“Staff here are helping me to get into a course where I can qualify to be a personal trainer,” he said.
“They have made me realise that I need to work harder to get to where I want to be. They’ve been helping with off-field stuff like my education and emphasising that it’s important, and they’ve also been pushing me in the gym.”
Running around since age three, the hulking smiling assassin is a former halfback who also spent years honing his passing game and footwork as a touch football specialist.
He shifts to the backline this year because that’s where his impressive physique and set of skills can most help his new outfit.
“Evander is a very big sized centre for his age,” Bretherton said.
“The other advantage for us is that because of his background as a half and a touch player he has got a really good set of hands and an unbelievable ability to change direction for someone so big, which is probably some of the qualities the Roosters have identified.
“He is highly skilful for a someone as big as he is, so what we’re doing is teaching him how to play in the body that he has now because he has a great understanding of the game but in a completely different position.”
Undeniably talented as a ball runner, it his unselfishness and ability to set up his outside men that is believed to be his greatest asset as Ipswich targets national glory.
Tied first in the state’s premier competition last year but second on for and against, Tere-Rongotaua is hungry for more. Although respectful of fancied schools like Palm Beach Currumbin and Keebra Park, he does not fear them at all. He also has complete faith in his new brothers led by halfback Lachlan Williamson, with whom he shares a side of the field and hopes to form a deadly combination.
“I’d definitely like to win the state championship and hopefully take that extra step further and win the national championships,” he said.