You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Forward leader: Why Vaalepu is key to Sunshine Coast's premiership push

Lazarus Vaalepu has come a long way during the past three seasons.

The Sunshine Coast Falcons prop made his Hostplus Cup debut in 2021, coming through with Wynnum Manly Seagulls and playing four games in his first year in the competition.

Now, this Sunday, the 24-year-old wrecking ball will be called upon to stand up for the Falcons in a do-or-die semi-final showdown with the Central Queensland Capras at Rockhampton’s Browne Park.

With the Melbourne Storm set to run out a team laden with Cup players in tonight’s NRL Round 27 clash with the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium – including regular Falcons forwards Aaron Pene, Chris Lewis and debutant Jack Howarth – Vaalepu will be looked upon as an engine room leader on Sunday.

Sunshine Coast coach Brad Henderson has watched how Vaalepu has dedicated himself to the game since arriving at Falcons HQ at the end of 2021.

And now he has no doubt that his young forward is up to the task on Sunday, as the Falcons look to rise from an eighth-place finish to a grand final day berth.

Lazarus Vaalepu. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Lazarus Vaalepu. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

“He’s enormous for us this week,” Henderson said.

“He’s big for us every week, there’s no doubt about it, but the spotlight is on him this week.

“We need him to go out there and be that big dog for us. I know he will. It’s a good moment for him, knowing we’re counting on him. It’s up to him to take us forward.

“He has good company in (fellow starting prop) Max Bailey and (captain and lock) Sam Burns. But he’s the man for us and we need him to be.”

Vaalepu, who was born in New South Wales and came through the ranks in Canberra, found his first home in Queensland at Wynnum Manly.

But Henderson said the club watched vision of him from his time at the Seagulls and knew they needed his ability in their forward pack – he had what they lacked at the time.

“He had a real dynamic way about him, the way he played,” Henderson said.

“It was something we didn’t have at that time. It was great to bring to him over.

“It was a relatively slow start for him but he turned things around pretty dramatically with a really great work ethic and attitude towards his training.”

For Vaalepu, the move to the Sunshine Coast was exactly what he needed to really kickstart his career.

He admits he arrived at his first pre-season at the Falcons a little unfit.

But, housed with Patrice Siolo – the Sunshine Coast’s regular captain, who is currently sidelined with an ACL injury – and with plenty of guidance from Henderson, Vaalepu quickly learnt what he had to do to be Cup-ready.

Vaalepu in action against Tweed. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Vaalepu in action against Tweed. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

“I had a pretty big off-season so came back pretty unfit,” he said.

“It was a fair bit (of work). It was more during the season that I had to put more work in. I came back a little overweight still, so I had to do extra (conditioning) during the year after every session and I had to jump on a pretty strict diet.

“That helped me the most. I had to lean up a bit.

“Most of the boys (helped) but a special mention goes to Hendo and Patrice Siolo, our captain.

“I was living with him the whole of last year so he helped me. He’s in pretty good nick so I just said, ‘can you put me on the same diet.’

“I stayed pretty strict that whole season and it got me where I am now.

"I've learnt you have to do a little bit more than the norm. If you’re doing five more reps after training, that’s five more reps than any other player that’s not doing it.

"If you do that three times a week, it just adds up by the end of the year. It’s doing the little things right and staying consistent and honest to yourself.

"Then you’ll be where you want to be."

Vaalepu’s hard work paid off in a massive way when he earned a pre-season with the Sunshine Coast’s NRL affiliate club, the Melbourne Storm, ahead of the 2023 season.

By March of this year, that six week train-and-trial led to Vaalepu signing an NRL contract for seasons 2024 and 2025.

“It was pretty surreal,” he said.

“I only went down there on a six week train-and-trial so to come out of that with this was like a dream come true. There’s still one more step to go – to actually play NRL. But it’s still not real now.”

Henderson said he felt extremely proud watching Vaalepu earn that contract with Melbourne.

“It was amazing,” he said.

“When you get to know a young man and understand how much it means to them… he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself, Laz.

“But after 12 months surrounded by really good people like Patrice Siolo - who has really helped him develop and understand how to be a professional in a semi-professional environment - when he did get the interest from Melbourne, it was really exciting.

“You almost feel like it’s half happening for you because you played a part in helping him get where he is. He’s a great, humble and kind fella and it’s happened to a really good person.”

But, before he gets to live out those NRL dreams, all of Vaalepu's focus is on this Sunday and helping the Sunshine Coast keep their premiership dreams alive.

The Falcons qualified for the finals in the very last round of the regular season and last week struck up an upset win over the Redcliffe Dolphins to advance to this weekend's semi-final against the Capras.

And Vaalepu believes they have a few more upsets left in them to go all the way.

"I reckon we can do it," he said.

"The boys are coming into shape, everyone is flowing well. I think it’s good that we came and found our flow towards the end of the season.

"We should have a good run and hopefully we can go all the way."

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Platinum Partners

View All Partners