Jesse Sene-Lefao is an international Rugby League player who represents Samoa. Born in New Zealand of Samoan heritage he normally plays at second-row and prop. He made his international debut for Samoa against Fiji In 2014, after being selected as part of the four nations squad that year. Domestically he plays for the Castleford Tigers in the English Super League and was part of the 2017 team that lifted the league leaders shield in 2017, after previously having played most of his career in the Australian NRL with the Manly Sea Eagles and the Cronulla Sharks.
Jesse told us he grew up the eldest of 5 children and around his uncles who all played Rugby league, with one uncle playing for New Zealand. So even at 4 years old, Jesse was captivated by the game and loved playing, even though he was actually a massive Rugby Union fan, with Jonah Lomu, a New Zealand legend, as his hero.
Jesse’s father and mother came from Samoa and with Jesse’s father not being fluent in English, life was extremely difficult for the family. Work was hard to find and with the family constantly having to move, focusing on Rugby was difficult. With his parents also having to work away, Jesse grew up living between them and his Grandparents with a lot of going back and forth. He also didn’t speak English at all to begin with and it was only at around the age of 5 or 6 that he moved with his parents on a permanent basis that he learnt to do so. Jesse’s family then made the decision to move to Australia for a better life, where things dramatically improved for the whole family, who began going to church and as a result of their new found faith in God, it seemed that life became a lot more settled and Jesse was able to focus on school and Rugby again.
Jesse was always told by his Uncles he was going to be a star and play for Australia, as far as everyone was concerned it was in his blood. So as he developed, it was a complete shock to find that from the age of 11 onwards, he was consistently told that he wasn’t good enough and as a result, wasn’t making any of the representative teams, due to the high standards of the young players in Australia. Alongside that, being the only child of colour in his school and being different, meant he suffered from a lot of racism and he recalled that to begin with, the only real friend he had, was his sister.
In this period at around age 12, Jesse said he grew a love for Jesus that without, he knows he would have struggled and wouldn’t be where he is today. He had always been taught that to God he was special and so it was important to be who he was, no matter what obstacles he faced. Jesse said “There were tough times but it just made me stronger having to adapt and learn to get on with other people who were different from me. I knew at my weakest point, I could always rely on God and that he had my back. I became fearless and eventually became The first Islander ever to become Captain of the whole school and with that came acceptance.”
Jesse was also able to find the belief to shake of the earlier disappointments he had faced in Rugby, continue to work hard and at the age of 17 was selected for his first representative team. From there he went from strength to strength, to now becoming an International player on the world stage.
Looking back through Jesse’s story, it’s clear there were plenty of times when he could have given up and in that, Jesse said he hoped that you would learn this from this and so had this to say to you guys. “You may think that your only young and not a big part of the world but you are important and even though you’re not perfect it doesn’t matter, no one is and don’t ever think your doing this alone, as you’ll always have God with you. I’d ask you to do this everyday, think of 3 things you are grateful for, it can be small things, so that even if you could have had the worst day, you’ll realise that the bad things are just a part of your life and not all of of it.”
Jesse is currently playing in his second season in the Super League and again fighting for top honours. Of course he has ambitions to do well for both club and country in the future and so we’ll just have to watch out and see what happens with both.