Earlier this year, Benaiah Ioelu of Ōtāhuhu Corps had the chance to travel to Australia to play in the Harold Matthews Cup. He speaks about that opportunity, how it brought him closer to God and how his faith has influenced every step of his rugby league journey.
Benaiah Ioelu got his first taste of rugby league when he was just four years old, and it has been an integral part of his life since.
Beyond having a strong talent for playing the sport, which has since propelled him to pursue it at an elite level, it is also the activity he enjoys the most. ‘During my spare time, I’m always at the park playing with the rugby ball,’ he says.
At the age of fourteen, Benaiah was playing casual rugby league when, unexpectedly, representative teams and clubs came knocking.
He was able to represent his ethnic group in the 2019 Toa Samoa 16s team when they played and won against the New Zealand Resident 16s. Then, in 2020, he made the New Zealand Resident 16s squad to face the New Zealand Māori 17s team, and the New Zealand Resident 16s side came away with the win.
God and Rubgy League
He has always kept his relationship with God tightly intertwined with his rugby league journey, especially as the prospects of playing at a higher level have increased.
‘I’ll always say my own prayer before starting a game, and then when I finish the game, I always go back to it,’ he says. ‘It helps to get through the dark road and helps me to stay focused and trust him fully.’
One of the verses that is particularly meaningful to him, which he carries every time he goes onto the field, is Jeremiah 29:11: ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.’
He says that ‘verses like that influence me to keep on task. All I want to do is keep working hard.’
Opportunities in Australia
After building his skills and continuing to impress, Benaiah was selected earlier this year to develop his game in Australia. For the first term of 2021, he travelled over the Tasman to play for the Central Coast Roosters in the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup. His school principal at Tangaroa College, in Auckland, allowed him to complete online schooling while he was in Australia, which helped him to keep up with the curriculum.
He describes it as ‘a huge opportunity for me to further accelerate and develop my game’.
‘Australia’s real big in rugby league. They wanted me to gain experience, so they sent me over there for a whole term.’
The Central Coast Roosters made it through to the elimination finals of the competition.
‘It was a good time, I enjoyed it heaps,’ Benaiah says. ‘I know where the bar’s set. I got to experience where the benchmark is while I was over there, so I know how to keep going and to focus on the next step.
‘It was hard to be away from my family for four months. I think what kept me driving was God, basically. Going back to that verse from the Bible, in Jeremiah 29:11, it just kept me going and learning,’ Benaiah says. ‘I can’t give up now.’
Faith at the Centre
Benaiah has attended Ōtāhuhu Corps with his family for as long as he can remember (his mother has been at the corps since she was a young kid). Before he left for Australia, the corps gifted him a book of Bible promises.
‘It was pretty cool giving me a promise every day. I would read it and then I’d try and think about the verse ... deeply, and see how it related to my life,’ Benaiah explains, ‘and think about every obstacle that comes my way. I [would] just relate back to the promise and see if that’s happened to me before.’
Each day he shared the day's promise with his family for reflection.
While the trip overseas was a significant step forward in his rugby league journey, it was also a great opportunity to grow closer to God—by reading the verses every day, carrying his Bible with him and praying. ‘I really felt the Spirit in me, while away from my family.’
His family has been crucial to his success—along with his parents, he has two sisters, two half-sisters and one brother, while his nana and papa have also been there every step of the way.
‘My mum and dad have been a huge support,’ he says. ‘And my nana and papa have always been there and always keep me on task.’
Because his family is so important to him, one of the greatest challenges Benaiah faced in Australia was being separated from them, in a place where he didn’t know anybody else.
He is grateful that he ended up living with a wonderful host family. ‘God took me to a good family, and they were lovely and kind to me.’
Benaiah is now back on New Zealand shores, but he will be returning to Australia again in the near future. ‘It’ll be even longer this time … I think the goal right now is to spend as much time as I can with my family.’
As he continues to develop his skills and search for further success on the field, Benaiah wants to make sure that faith stays in the centre of his rugby league aspirations and to never take for granted the opportunities God is placing in front of him.
‘It’s just a miracle this has happened in my life,’ he says. ‘He answered my prayers, and you just want to give it all back to him. You just want to praise him every single day.’