The South Sydney Rabbitohs have awarded their first two scholarships as part of the affiliation with Keebra Park State High School, with Tomasi Vaitai and Kobe Vakalahi both receiving the scholarships this month.
Vaitai is 15 years of age, studying in year ten at Keebra Park SHS, and was awarded the first scholarship under the new affiliation agreement.
Tomasi is of Samoan and Tongan heritage and was named the Queensland Whites under 15s Australian Schoolboys Championships player of the carnival earlier this year in Port Macquarie.
He was also awarded the Hampo’s Youth Foundation Grant in 2023, an award named in honour of former Keebra Park SHS student and coach, Liam Hampson. Hampson attended the school from 2011 to 2016 before returning to the school in 2021 as a specialist coach in the Rugby League program. Hampson’s positive energy, great attitude and strong resilience saw him excel as a footballer and a person, right up until his untimely passing in 2022 due to an accident whilst travelling overseas. His lasting legacy lives on through the Hampo’s Youth Foundation, and this year’s recipient, Tomasi Vaitai. Vaitai will receive ongoing support and mentorship to help him realise his dreams of playing professional Rugby League, with the school identifying his exuberant spirit which was also a hallmark of Hampson, hence Tomasi’s receipt of this award.
The second player to receive a scholarship into the south-east Queensland elite development pathway from Keebra Park SHS, Kobe Vakalahi, is 17 years of age and will start his year 12 studies at Keebra Park SHS in 2024.
He is of Tongan and Samoan heritage as well, stands 197cm tall and weighs 114kg, and can play either as a middle or edge forward.
Kobe has only played two seasons of Rugby League, having played basketball for five years in Werribee, Victoria. Kobe is one of five boys in the Vakalahi family.
Kobe was identified by the NFL, along with his two older brothers, as potential targets for the NFL college system, however Kobe has indicated he wants to give himself every opportunity to excel in Rugby League before considering a potential career in the NFL.
Rabbitohs pathways recruitment manager, Brent Hill, said: “I met with Tomasi and his mum Lilli in Queensland and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the young man and how respectful and humble they both were to have this opportunity with the Rabbitohs and Keebra Park.
“Tomasi travels 90km by public transport from Ipswich to Keebra Park for school each day, a four-hour round trip, which shows his dedication to his education and his football at the school.
“I’m really looking forward to watching his development in our south-east Queensland elite development pathway.
“Kobe is a very raw talent and still has much to learn in the game, however he will get the chance to do that within our system and the great people in charge of the Rugby League Academy at Keebra Park.
“He will get great coaching in our south-east Queensland elite development pathway and he could be one that jumps out of the ground in the next 12 months.
“His father, Frank, is very proud of his sons and will support them in any decision they make around their sport. He has been supportive of the older boys’ move into the NFL system and he is equally supportive of Kobe’s dreams to make it in Rugby League.
“We’re delighted to be able to give him the opportunity to develop in our system and we’ll be doing our best to develop two more Rabbitohs in both Kobe and Tomasi.”