By Michelle Curran
This year has been a journey into the unknown for Samoa representative and professional rugby player Faifili Levave, who has hung up his boots to pursue a career as a mortgage broker.
The Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) Board member has shared his story to help others who are transitioning to life after rugby, with the first-hand knowledge it is not always an easy change to make.
Faifili Levave has been “unofficially planning his exit” from professional rugby for the past decade.
“I knew when I finished playing, I didn’t want to be defined by rugby I wanted to have a degree on my CV, to be flexible and to have something else I was interested in other than rugby – so in 2014, while playing in Japan, I completed a Management degree,” Faifili says.
Born in Porirua, Wellington of Samoan descent, Faifili attended St Patrick’s College, and made his provincial rugby debut for Wellington at the age of 19.
He spent time with Super Rugby’s Hurricanes and the Chiefs before playing seasons in Japan for Honda Heat, Toyota Verblitz and Mitsubishi Dynaboars followed by a season with Top 14 French side, La Rochelle & Clermont Auvergne.
He is also a current Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) Board member and he aims to provide a voice for his fellow Pasifika peers.
While rugby has provided Faifili with many opportunities, fate intervened and had other things in store for him this year.
When his contract with Clermont ended in March, Faifili returned to New Zealand to join his wife Merita and their two children, Eve, 9, and Hosea, 5, in Wellington.
He was keen to keep playing rugby and met with the Wellington Lions management staff, but the 34-year-old was told he needed to prove himself if he wanted to play.
“That really triggered me, so I took a break and while on holiday in Fiji with my family, I started to try and figure out what is next for me – rugby or something else.”
Not long after, the COVID-19 pandemic took effect around the world, which helped make up his mind, he adds.
He went through a process of elimination, looking at potential career paths that interested him, and talking to his PRP network, former players, and his contacts in the know.
After considering project management and commercial development, Faifili was put in touch with his under-16 coach Paul Rolton, who referred him to Porirua-based director of Connect Me Mortgages, Mike McGinley.
Fast forward through COVID-19 lockdown and a few coffees later, and Faifili has just completed his first month employed as a mortgage broker, working alongside Mike, who has been an invaluable mentor, he says.
It has been a rollercoaster of emotions, he explains, having to learn new skills, establish a new routine, missing rugby and the team environment, but appreciating his time with his family and working a job which will provide him with flexibility later in life.
“One month in, and I am really enjoying it, but I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with working in an office environment,” Faifili says.
“I know I am in the right place, I am passionate about what I am doing and I want to help others, but I’m not so keen on the office attire – I am slowly acquiring shirts, and upskilling with my computer skills.”
Being an athlete, Failfili says he is his own worst critic, and part of his learning has been to ease up on himself a little, and to find balance between work, family, and his own wellbeing.
“Acquiring new skills in rugby is done as a team, all the boys go through the same struggles, but when you are going it alone, emotionally it can be tough.
“I am also missing the physicality of fulltime rugby, but I am slowly establishing new routines – I am up training at 5am so I can get back to be with the kids before they go to school, and I head to work.
“It is great, my kids know my name now,” he quips, and adds he is settling back into family life nicely after spending his season with Clermont on his own.
While he was overseas, Faifili acquired some investment properties which he now hopes to grow.
“I was fortunate to get into property while I was still playing, and I would really encourage the guys still playing to invest wisely now, so they have something to return to when they finally give rugby up – it makes the transition easier.
“I just want to see the guys thrive, this is what is driving me to share my story and offer help if they need it.
“COVID-19 has really made it clear people need to have a Plan B, and that is evident in rugby more than ever with guys taking pay cuts and losing contracts.
“Talk to your contacts, talk to PRP, talk to me, consider your options carefully – you don’t have to do it all on your own.”