Following a year in New Zealand progressing as a footballer, Raphael Le’ai is about to be unleashed in the OFC Champions League.
The 16-year-old spent last year at Scots College in Wellington, alongside Henderson Eels teammate Leon Kofana, on a scholarship where they were part of the Wellington Phoenix’s academy.
Le’ai shot to prominence in Oceania football circles following his exploits for the Solomon Islands at the OFC U-16 Championship 2018 where he was the tournament’s leading goal-scorer with eight and was named the event’s best player.
The youngster also helped orchestrate their historic 5-0 win over New Zealand during pool play where he starred with two goals.
Le’ai and Kofana have opted not to return to Wellington this year but that means they can play for Henderson in this year’s OFC Champions League.
The Eels are in Group B, which will be held in Luganville in Vanuatu, and they will play their first match against Papua New Guinea’s Lae City FC on Saturday.
“It’s a big opportunity to play with the senior players and big players,” Le’ai said.
“It’s a great chance for me.”
Le’ai was introduced to the game by his father as a 12-year-old and his development has been rapid.
Aside from his highlights in the 11-a-side game, he has also excelled at futsal.
Le’ai was part of the Solomon Islands team that competed at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires where he was the second-equal top goal-scorer, a remarkable achievement given the Solomon Islands were defeated in all four of their group matches.
In the OFC Champions League, Le’ai will be stationed out wide where his pace can be used as a weapon. Group B promises to be a competitive group that also features Lae, Fiji’s Lautoka FC and home side Malampa Revivors FC.
Le’ai supports Juventus in the Serie A and his favourite player is Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo.
Henderson Eels coach Eddie Marahare said Le’ai was an exciting prospect for his team.
“He’s got all the pace, shooting ability, and everything.”