Power-running centre Watson Filikitonga has today been unveiled as the LA Giltinis first US Major League Rugby signing.
The Giltinis’ first selection in June’s MLR Draft (14th overall) will be one of many young aspiring Rugby stars set to put Los Angeles’ newest sporting franchise on the map when the season opens in March.
At 23, Filikitonga is 218lb of go-forward Tongan authority just like the high school running back-middle linebacker he was in his mid-teens before switching to Rugby.
Watson is now at that stage where his potential can explode in a full-time rugby program under the leadership of the Giltinis coaching roster, following a success stint at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.
“I wasn’t even sure I’d be picked up in the draft so for LA to give me this chance has given me a whole lot of confidence,” Filikitonga said.
“The setting in LA, learning from a great coaching staff, moulding things together so we really start something at a new club…everything super-excites me about this.”
Filikitonga will become a tackle-shredding and bumping favourite for Giltinis fans at the Santa Monica-based club with his physical style.
His secret weapon has been having big brother Lemoto, 27, in his corner to advise, coach and confide in during his transition from American football.
Lemoto Filikitonga played a Test for the US Eagles against Canada as a centre in 2016.
“My brother trains me three times a week so that’s coaching and answering questions I might never have got,” said Watson, who lives in San Mateo, outside San Jose.
“My brother got me into rugby and I’ve only really taken it on since 2017.
“In American football, it’s a one-man game (as a running back) but in rugby you have to always be aware of your surroundings and work on your pass to involve your teammates.”
Coleman knows all to well the value of hard-running centres.
“Watson Filikitonga is all that’s great about MLR,” Coleman said.
“He’s got a college degree, he was picked by us in the draft and now has an opportunity to develop into a professional rugby player by learning from some of the game’s best around him.
“It’s a system like this that talented rugby athletes in North America have been crying out for and will be the reason the Eagles climb the world rankings over the next few years.
“I’m excited to work with an all-round talent like Watson… big, fast and powerful.”
The expertise on the Giltinis coaching staff means the youngster will also have the chance to add to his natural package.
New Kiwi skills coach Orene Ai’i was renowned for his vision to use the clever pass, blindside play or slick handling as a Super Rugby player for the Auckland Blues.
Filikitonga’s signing is also a very 2020-style event in this year of COVID-19 disruptions.
The coach has had to get his impressions by Zoom calls and on the phone, rather than in person, and the same goes for Filikitonga, who has a degree in criminal justice.
“One strong thing that came through for me from Darren was him wanting to develop me not just as a player on the field but for life after rugby,” Filikitonga said.
“It’s great to have a coach beside you who cares.
“The Lakers and Dodgers have brought championships back to LA so it’s the perfect time for another LA club to keep bringing light to the city through sports.”
The Giltinis will kick off their MLR campaign on the weekend of March 20, 2021, with tickets being available by the end of this year.