It’s a shame that whoever gave Valynce Te Whare the nickname ‘Val Meninga’ didn’t have a better grasp of the Māori language.
Had that been the case, they would have realised that the 108kg smiling assassin’s last name translates to ‘The House’ in English, which seems a rather fitting label given tackling him often resembles someone trying to take down a modest family dwelling.
Still, the 22-year-old Dolphins centre, who in the space of 80 minutes last month seemed to gain fully-fledged cult hero status during his NRL debut, reckons he has enough on his hands trying to live up to the nickname he’s been given.
“Some say I’m the same size as Mal Meninga. Apparently he’s actually bigger than me, but I’m faster!” Te Whare tells NRL.com with a wry smile.
“The attention has been pretty unreal eh. I appreciate everyone who has been supporting me on this journey.
“It’s pretty weird, because it was off one game, so hopefully I can get plenty more.”
A former top rugby union prospect in New Zealand, Te Whare was the third player signed by the Dolphins and last year proved the transition to league would be no problem, earning Centre of the Year honours in the Queensland Cup competition.
Hype had been building long before his first-grade debut in Magic Round this year, and his stunning double to help the Dolphins upset the Sharks in front of 48,000 people at Suncorp Stadium ensured there would be no going back to a life of relative anonymity.
Dream debut for Te Whare
He ticks all the boxes as a fan favourite. Powerful, remarkably fast for a man weighing nearly 110kgs, and most of all genuinely likeable, with a smile that appears large and often.
That last point was clear to the Dolphins from the first time they met their future recruit over Zoom.
“He was sitting in the smoko room at his job with his hi-vis vest on, on a Zoom call on his phone,” Dolphins CEO Terry Reader recalls.
“When we got off the call we looked at each other and said ‘he’ll be quite the character!’ and that was before we even saw him play rugby league.”
Te Whare himself isn’t so sure what all the fuss is about.
I am just trying to be myself. I love being who I am, I love where I am from, the 274, Otara in Auckland, so I just try and stay that same guy.Valynce Te Whare
“I’ve never been shy, always just wanted to have a crack at something.”
The influence of Te Whare and the nine other Kiwis on the Dolphins' inaugural roster appears to be having a positive impact on the club’s footprint across the ditch too.
The NRL newcomers were well supported in their Round 14 match against the Warriors in Auckland – which drew a crowd of 23,686 – and Reader said merchandise sales in New Zealand are promising.
“You’d like to think that behind the Warriors, we’ve become a fan favourite over there given the Kiwi influence in our team,” Reader said.
“New Zealand retailers can’t get enough Dolphins stuff. As soon as they get it in it’s gone.
“That’s a good sign and shows people are getting behind your team.”
Te Whare is set to make his fourth appearance at NRL level on Friday night when the Dolphins take on the Sea Eagles at 4 Pines Park.
Match: Sea Eagles v Dolphins
Round 15 -
Venue: 4 Pines Park, Sydney