Should 26-year-old Brumby, Ita Vaea be announced within the Wallabies squad this Rugby World Cup year it could quite possibly be one of the bravest and most inspiring comebacks in Australian rugby, if it hasn’t already been.
Born on the 9 February 1989, Ita was raised by his grandparents in the small Tongan village of Kolovai before heading to New Zealand after he was awarded a boarding school scholarship at Nelson College. Following his last year of schooling, Ita moved to Brisbane where was reunited with his parents.
Ita hit the Australian rugby scene with similar barnstorming force that has defined his on-field career thus far. A standout within Brisbane’s Club scene, it wasn’t long before he found his way to the Brumbies Academy.
The opportunity to step up into the number eight jersey was one the determined Ita took with both hands and in February 2011 he made his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies against the Chiefs.
With 27 appearances for the Brumbies across the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Ita was considered one of the ACT-based side’s strongest assets and was therefore handed a two-year contract extension to stick with the team until 2014.
His dream tenure in Super Rugby, however was devastatingly cut short when in October 2012 Ita discovered something wrong with his calf. Upon further investigation scans revealed the problem was life-threatening blood clots.
A rare and startling diagnosis, Ita was immediately put on blood-thinning medication after it was revealed he could have had or stroke or died mid-way through training or a match.
His condition and medication forced Ita to the sidelines, unable to partake in any sort of exercise that would increase his heart-rate or risk a heavy knock. With the inactivity reversing the physique he had built across years of training, it was trying times for Ita across the next two seasons in which he longed to be further developing his rugby.
But, remaining confident and positive, instead Ita simply felt lucky to be alive and turned his attention to areas where he could use his experience to help, speaking publically during Heart Week in May 2013 as an ambassador for the Heart Foundation.
With ongoing tests and monitoring, Ita refused to believe his professional playing days were over. The Brumbies had vowed to stand by Ita and so they did, welcoming him back to train last year when his prognosis was deemed safer.
Ita returned the favour, knocking back interest from French Clubs who remembered him from his first years in Super Rugby, to undergo rigorous training to revive his previous physical build and form.
Impressing coaching staff in this season’s trial matches, Ita was given a temporary contract with the Brumbies and named on the bench for the very first round after Fotu Auelua was ruled out injured.
It only took until round two against the Chiefs, the same team he made his debut against, for Ita to be named back in the starting number eight jersey, a privilege he indulged with his second Super Rugby try, adding to his first during his debut season back in 2011.
He has since notched a further two tries to his name in a season that could be said to be his best yet, more than enough to convince the coaching staff to extend his contract for a further two years. From the sidelines with a life-threatening condition, Ita is now on the cusp of semi-finals Super Rugby with his Championship-hungry teammates.
His inspiration has always been fellow Tongan born Wallaby number eight, Toutai Kefu, but Ita himself has already inspired rugby greats, including Julian Huxley and current coach Stephen Larkham, who believes he has the potential to be a Wallaby.
Ita was on the Wallabies' radar back in 2011 when he was named in the extended training squad. Now, four years later, Ita incredibly has a similar opportunity. If he is bestowed the opportunity to represent Australia in Wallaby Gold at this year’s World Cup it would be nothing short of a wonderful miracle.