‘Exciting’ opening for rookie winger

It has been a rapid rise for Freedom Vahaakolo.

This time last year, the speedy winger was putting his feet up — like most of us as lockdown struck. Playing the 15-man code at the professional level seemed a goal well out of reach.

Now he will start in a Super Rugby match, on the right wing for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin tomorrow night.

Freedom Vahaakolo at Highlanders training at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR...
Freedom Vahaakolo at Highlanders training at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Vahaakolo (23) is not your classic player out of the academy. He was a street kid for most of his teenage years. He started playing only in his last couple of years of high school.

He then managed to get into university and flew through his study to earn an accountancy degree in two and a-half years.

Rugby was still there and he played some Auckland club rugby.

Then last June, the Highlanders called and asked him if he wanted to head south.

He said yes and spent the final four weeks of the Highlanders season in and around the team.

The powerful winger starred for Dunedin in club rugby and then played for Otago, scoring seven tries in 10 games.

He was intially not picked for the Highlanders squad but was called in as injury cover.

Now he gets his chance as coach Tony Brown looks to bring some speed and power into his line-up.

"It is an exciting opportunity for him. He has come down south for an opportunity to play professional rugby and he has made a pretty good fist of it so far and I think it is time for him to show everyone what he has got," Brown said.

"He is power athlete.

"We’ve got some speed out wide but we don’t have a lot of power, so we are hoping he is going to give us that physicality in the width that we are after.

"He has plenty of X-factor and hopefully we’ll see it on Friday night."

Super Rugby Aotearoa

Highlanders v Hurricanes
Forsyth Barr Stadium. Friday, 7.05pm

Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Freedom Vahaakolo, Michael Collins, Sio Tomkinson, Jona
Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (co-captain), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u,  Billy Harmon,
Shannon Frizell, Pari Pari Parkinson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-
captain), Ethan De Groot. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck,
Josh Dickson, Kazuki Himeno, Folau Fakatava, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Connor
Garden-Bachop.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Salesi
Rayasi, Orbyn Leger, Luke Campbell, Ardie Savea (captain), Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed
Prinsep, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Scott Scrafton, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, Xavier
Numia. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Tevita Mafileo, Liam Mitchell,
Devan Flanders, Jonathan Taumateine, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ruben Love.

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