Posted in Rugby News.

David Clegg Continues His Introductions To Our New Personnel With Samoan and New Zealand International Francis Meli


With rugby league in New Zealand being a fairly localised sport, we can all be thankful that winger, Francis Meli, was brought up in Auckland, where he had easy access to it in his early teens, because it had been rugby union which had first taken his fancy, as a result of playing for his school as a fifteen year old.

Fortunately, some of his friends played league and invited him to try his hand at that, and when he did he found that he much preferred it, as it was far more challenging a sport.  Because of the nature of the game, he found that, despite there being four less players on the field, there was actually less room thus limiting the opportunity of making easy metres.  This, consequently, meant that players have to work really hard to make progress upfield.  He also particularly enjoyed the more physical aspect of our game.

Although he continued playing Union alongside League for some little while, he soon got to the point at which he had to choose between the two, and thankfully that his preference for League prevailed.  His joined Marist ARLFC, which had become renowned for developing young talent in the game, including, among others, Sonny Bill Williams and Motu Tony.  Under Francis’s captaincy, at U18 level, his team won the championship.

Throughout his career to that point, Francis had played in a number of positions in the back line.  As a Union player, he had started out at fullback before moving later to stand off.  Upon switching codes he moved to centre, where he played throughout his whole amateur League career, and continued there in the early part of his professional career.  Indeed, he played much of last season at centre, with St Helens.  During his time with New Zealand Warriors, however, competition for the centre berth became really intense, and so Francis was moved onto the wing, where he continued thereafter.

As his amateur career progressed, representative honours came his way, first with Auckland, and then moving on to play with the Junior Kiwis,  in 1997, against the Australian Schoolboys.  As with all such games, the match was a major target for club scouts from the NRL, and very quickly after, he was contacted by New Zealand Warriors inviting him to visit the club, which then led to a small number of trial games, followed by his being signed up by them

Francis stayed with the Warriors for a total of seven years, but then surprisingly left, with twelve months of his contract still remaining.  The reason behind this was that the team had been going through something of a lull in its performances, and results-wise was somewhat under-achieving.  This had an unsettling effect upon him and he felt that he needed a change, after such a long time in the same club.  He consequently requested early release from his contract, which was granted on condition that he did not join any other NRL club.

His international career, meanwhile, had afforded him the opportunity of seeing various parts of the world, including the UK.  His first visit here had been in the 2000 World Cup, when he was part of the Samoa side, qualifying for a selection as a result of Samoan parentage.  The squad was based up in Scotland, and with the fixtures being played in the far flung reaches of Britain, Francis thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.  A year later he was selected by the Kiwis for the Anzec Tests, and in 2002 toured the UK.  Among his memories of that tour was that he played in the very last ever game at the Boulevard, Hull, although even more significantly he was included in a fixture against St Helens.  The Kiwis tied the series with Great Britain, but upon crossing the Channel returned home winners over France.  Twelve months later he was back again to take part in the Tri-Nations Tournament.

With so many previous visits, Francis was fully conversant with the way of life here in the north of England when former Warriors coach, Daniel Anderson, recently moved to become coach at Saints, contacted him with the invitation to join him at Knowsley Rd.  In the circumstances of his own release from the Warriors and his prior knowledge about the UK and of St Helens, Francis quickly accepted to commence a highly successful eight year association with the club.

In his first year alone, 2004, the Saints won all four major trophies – Challenge Cup, League Leaders Trophy, Grand Final, and World Cup Challenge.  They then went on to lift the Challenge Cup a total of three successive seasons.  Not surprisingly, Francis looks back on that period as extremely special.  Playing with what he described as absolutely great players was extremely rewarding, and he enjoyed making his contribution towards helping make their dreams become a reality.

If the early part of his time with Saints was magic, the later part was filled with heartache, as the club suffered defeat in four Grand Final appearances.  No matter that he had already won a Grand Final medal earlier, those successive defeats each were extremely painful to bear, with the winning mentality inculcated so strongly in him and the team.

Now, however, he is part of the Salford resurgence, and highly delighted to be here.  His really genuine excitement is born out of this being such a different challenge from anything he has known hitherto, and he freely admits that he is completely out of his comfort zone.  He does, however, have great faith in the really high quality of both the players around him and the coaching staff.  He feels that both Brian Noble, and Chairman, Dr Koukash, have clearly set out their vision for the club and that it is now necessary to take the steps required to achieve that vision.

Over the time both on tour here, and since coming to settle, Francis says he has gained a thorough understanding of our northern culture, which he says is based on the maxim that it never rains but it pours!  From this, he philosophically infers the importance of ensuring that we each make the very best of every opportunity that comes our way, and he applies that to himself in rugby league.  He really is thrilled to have this new opportunity and making his contribution to the club’s achieving its goals.

You can take the opportunity to witness the opening of the new season with the three match sampler ticket.

Next Time David Clegg Meets New Head Conditioner Richard Hunwicks