|Full name||Lesley Paea 'I'Muli Vainikolo|
|Date of birth||4 May 1979|
|Place of birth||Nukuʻalofa, Tonga|
|Height||1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)|
|Weight||112 kg (17 st 9 lb)|
|School||De La Salle College (Auckland)|
|Rugby league career|
|Years||Club / team||Caps||(points)|
|Years||Club / team||Caps||(points)|
|Rugby union career|
|Professional / senior clubs|
|Years||Club / team||Caps||(points)|
Rugby Athletic Club Angerien
|Years||Club / team||Caps||(points)|
He began his career playing rugby league in Australia for the Canberra Raiders of the National Rugby League and later in England for the Bradford Bulls of Super League. He then moved to English rugby union club Gloucester. In both codes, he has usually played as a wing.
Childhood and early career
Born 4 May 1979 in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga, Vainikolo grew up in south-west Auckland, New Zealand playing rugby union but switched to rugby league as he explains, "I first got into rugby league when I was 11. One of my mates got me into it. His team were short on numbers and my mate asked if I wanted to play. I grew up playing union, so I had the basic skills. I played the game and absolutely loved it. And I've been hooked since." Vainikolo played for the Mangere East Hawks in the Auckland Rugby League competition. He represented Auckland in the 1997 Super League Challenge Cup. He represented the Junior Kiwis in 1998.
He attended De La Salle College, Mangere East and holds the school's 100m record of 10.90s. Vainikolo ran the 100 metres in 10.6 seconds in qualifying for the 1998 World Junior Athletics Championships.
Vainikolo had two big league heroes when he was younger – Allan Langer and Mal Meninga. So when Vainikolo received a call from Mal Meninga to join the Canberra Raiders, he had no hesitation. Thus, in 1998, Vainikolo began his professional rugby league career for the Canberra Raiders in the Australian National Rugby League competition. In his first season for the club, he was voted as the Canberra Raiders' rookie of the year. While playing for the Raiders, Vainikolo was dubbed by Australian rugby league commentator Peter Sterling as 'The Volcano'. The reason for this is because Sterling found the player's surname difficult to pronounce and shortened it to "Volcano" and he has been called this nickname ever since. Vainikolo was selected for the New Zealand team to compete in the end of season 1999 Rugby League Tri-Nations tournament. In the final against Australia he played at on the wing in the Kiwis' 22–20 loss.
Vainikolo made his debut in the 2002 World Club Challenge against the Newcastle Knights in January. As Super League VI champions, the Bulls played against 2001 NRL Premiers, the Newcastle Knights in the 2002 World Club Challenge. Vainikolo played on the wing and scored a try in Bradford's victory. However, his first season with the club in 2002 was disrupted by injury. He scored only 13 tries in 24 appearances. Vainikolo played for Bradford Bulls on the wing in their 2002 Super League Grand Final loss against St Helens RFC. In his second season with the club he scored an impressive 28 tries in 32 appearances. Vainikolo played for Bradford on the wing in their 2003 Super League Grand Final victory against the Wigan Warriors. Having won Super League VIII, Bradford played against 2003 NRL Premiers, the Penrith Panthers in the 2004 World Club Challenge. Vainikolo played on the wing, scoring a try in the Bulls' 22–4 victory. In the 2004 season he broke the Super League try scoring record by scoring 36 tries in only 26 appearances, including five hat-tricks. Vainikolo played for the Bradford Bulls on the wing and scored a try in their 2004 Super League Grand Final loss against the Leeds Rhinos.
Again in 2005, his season was disrupted with injury, although he still managed to score a remarkable 34 tries in 23 appearances. During the 2005 rugby league season his contract was due to expire at the end of the season and Vainikolo received what he says was "a very big offer" from Gloucester Rugby Club, who play in the leading English rugby union competition the Guinness Premiership. However, Vainikolo declined the offer and decided to remain with the Bradford Bulls until the end of the 2009 Super League season. After signing the contract, Vainikolo's coach at the time, Brian Noble stated "Lesley is a world-class player and was in big demand from both union and league clubs. To manage to keep him in rugby league says a lot for the sport and also the Bradford Bulls." At the end of the 2005 season, Vainikolo had scored a remarkable 112 tries in 105 appearances for the Bulls. He played for the Bradford Bulls on the wing, scoring aa try in their 2005 Super League Grand Final victory against Leeds Rhinos As Super League champions Bradford faced National Rugby League premiers Wests Tigers in the 2006 World Club Challenge. Vainikolo played on the wing in the Bulls' 30-10 victory.
On 15 May 2007, it was confirmed by Bradford Bulls that he was to leave the club and join Union side Gloucester Rugby Club. Vainikolo spoke about his move saying: "First and foremost I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone connected with Bradford Bulls – including my team-mates, the staff and all the supporters – for making the last five years so memorable. "Bradford is my home and I know I'll be back. I'm determined to go out on a high and want to contribute as much as possible over the next six weeks before I make the switch." His last match at Odsal was on 17 June 2007 against Hull, a 34–8 win. Hooker Terry Newton took the limelight with four tries but Vainikolo was allowed a parting shot when he was given the chance to convert a last minute try from regular goal-kicker Paul Deacon; the first shot of his career and his only two-point score for Bradford Bulls. Vainikolo's last match in Super League was against the Bulls' rivals Leeds Rhinos at Headingley on 29 June 2007, he scored the opening try in a 38–14 win for the Bulls, leaving his Bradford Bulls career statistics at 152 games, 149 tries and 1 goal. In August 2007, he was named in Bradford's Team of the Century.
International Rugby League career
Vainikolo made his first international appearance for the New Zealand national rugby league team in 1998. He has scored fourteen tries in twelve appearances for his nation, including nine tries in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
In 2007, Vainikolo signed a three-year deal with rugby union Premiership side Gloucester who finished top of the Aviva Premiership in 2006/07 season. Gloucester head coach, Dean Ryan, was delighted with the signing of Vainikolo. Vainikolo was the fourth Bradford Bulls Player to have joined rugby union in the last 6 years after Tevita Vaikona joined Saracens, and Henry Paul and former team-mate Karl Pryce who also joined Gloucester Rugby.
Vainikolo scored five tries on his debut for Gloucester against Leeds Carnegie on 16 September 2007. He finished the 07-08 Season joint 4th top try scorer with Worcester wing Miles Benjamin with a total of 9 tries.
Lesley Vainikolo would join the French side La Rochelle on a two-and-a-half-year deal after leaving Gloucester Rugby at the end of the 2011/2012 season. As of 2013, Vainikolo left La Rochelle as he now plays for Rugby Athletic Club Angerien in Saint-Jean-d'Angély in France, where they compete in Federale 1 the third highest league competition in France.
International rugby union career
As a union player, Vainikolo was eligible to play for Tonga by birth, New Zealand by parentage or England by residence. He applied for a British passport and was included in the English squad for the Six Nations Championships in 2008. He qualified under residency rules and has not played representative rugby at any level for Tonga, rejecting the chance to play in the 2007 Rugby World Cup so that he could play for his adopted nation.
He made his debut for England against Wales on 2 February 2008, while his second appearance came for England against Italy in Rome on 10 February 2008. He also played against France, also in the Six Nations on 23 February 2008, Scotland on 8 March 2008 and Ireland on 15 March 2008. So far he has played five test matches and is yet to score a try.
He was dropped by Rob Andrew for the England tour of New Zealand, and was left out of Martin Johnson's Elite Squad for 2008–2009.
In 2009 Vainikolo was found not guilty after being accused of grievous bodily harm. On 18 December 2008 he was arrested and charged after being accused of assaulting a man in a fight outside a nightclub in Bath.
A spokesman for the Gloucester said Vainikolo had not been suspended and there was "no reason" for the star to miss the next match. The statement also said "Lesley vigorously contests this allegation and, as demonstrated this season, remains completely focused on his rugby and will not allow this matter to distract him". He appeared before the Magistrates Court on 2 January 2009, where he was found not guilty.
Notes and references
- VAINIKOLO, LESLEY PAEA 'I'MULI 1998 – 2000, 2004, 2006 – KIWI #676 nzleague.co.nz
- "Aviva Premiership Rugby – Gloucester Rugby". web page. Premier Rugby. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- New Zealand Rugby League Annual '98, New Zealand Rugby Football League, 1998. p.181
- "Bradford's Volcano talks rugby league!". BBC Sport. 12 February 2004. Retrieved 24 June 2006.
- The Times, 1 May 2007
- "Bradford boost as Vainikolo stayes". BBC Sport. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 24 June 2006.
- Bradford Bulls Official Website
- Irvine, Christopher (10 January 2008). "Lesley Vainikolo in league of his own for both brain and brawn". London: The Times. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
- "Vainikolo to miss British matches". BBC Sport. 20 October 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
- Fisher, Michael (24 October 2005). "Vainikolo surgery angers Kiwis". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
- "Kiwis still hope to have 'Volcano'". NZ City. 21 October 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2008.[dead link]
- "Vainikolo hopeful of avoiding knee surgery". Telegraph & Argus. 27 February 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
- "Rugby League: Knee Forces Lesley Out". The Guardian. 3 March 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
- "Gloucester winger Lesley Vainikolo joins La Rochelle". BBC Sport. 5 January 2012..
- "Lesley Vainikolo departure from La Rochelle". The Rugby Forum.
- (French) "Lesley Vainikolo profile". Raca 17.
- "England to Fast Track Vainikolo". BBC Sport. 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
- "Vainikolo tipped as England star". BBC Sport. 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
- "Vainikolo called into starting side". Fox Sports. 6 February 2008. Retrieved 7 February 2008.
- England Rugby's 'Volcano' Charged
- "Lesley Vainikolo charged with grievous bodily harm after Bath street brawl". London: Times Online. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
- Baa-Baas win in Brussels
- BBC Gloucestershire feature on Vainikolo signing
- Lesley Vainikolo Official Player Profile
- Vainikolo quits league for union
- Vainikolo speaks of Gloucester Rugby switch joy
- Gloucester Rugby profile
- Sportinglife profile
- England new boys – Lesley Vainikolo
- Volcano to erupt
- Team Of The Century
- Rugby Athletic Club Amerien profile