Esei set to unwrap Super dream
It’s not your typical 18th birthday.
There’s no party with mates, embarrassing speeches from the parents or a hangover the next day but Esei Haangana wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Rebels lock modestly celebrated his significant birthday amongst teammates and staff with a cake after dinner in the team room in Durban on Friday night.
The 18-year-old got the best birthday present he could ever dream of – the chance of a Super Rugby debut off the bench against the Sharks at Growthpoint Kings Park on Sunday morning (3.30am AEST).
Haangana, one of three debutants named in the 23-player team alongside Will Miller and Hugh Sinclair, is still coming to terms with the situation.
“I was telling myself today that this is probably the best 18th birthday present that I could ever get – nothing beats this,” Haangana said.
“I was over the moon to find out that I was coming on this (South Africa) trip but then to find out that I was playing and potentially coming off the bench is my dream and something that I’ve always wanted to achieve.
“I’m still trying to get used to it and wrap my head around it because not that long ago I was just at home training so it’s pretty surreal.”
With Lopeti Timani suspended and Dominic Day injury, head coach Tony McGahan turned to the Rebels U20s captain to fill the shoes.
Haangana could have been excused for thinking that an early morning phone call from Melbourne Rebels general manager football operations Baden Stephenson was a dream.
“I was still in bed, I had just woken up, when Baden called me,” he recalled.
“Initially I wasn’t sure what he was talking about because he was talking about injuries and then he told me that I was going to South Africa.
“It took a while for it to click and then he said that (football operations manager Mark Rowe) ‘Rowie’ would call to work out my travel details.
“I was just waiting anxiously for Rowie’s call and had the phone in my hand the whole day.”
Haangana said he’s trying to soak up the opportunity and learn from young and old.
“The older guys in the group have been really supportive and the young guys have been teaching me about their experience and everyone has been making sure that I’m calm for this weekend.
“I can’t thank them enough.”
A Super Rugby debut would cap off a remarkable year for the 18-year-old after he led the club’s U20s program and earned his maiden Australian U20s selection but Haangana hopes there’s still one more present to come.
“I’ve been pretty blessed this year and I thank god for everything but all the hard work that I put in during the pre-season has helped me get here today.
“I just want to get on there and get the job done for the boys.
“All I care about is getting the win for the boys.”
The Melbourne Rebels take on the Sharks at Growthpoint Kings Park on Sunday morning at 3.30am (AEST).