Pele Cowley is off to play for Austin Herd in the Major League Rugby competition in the USA. Rugby has taken Pele around the world for Manu Samoa, Cardiff Blues and Counties Manukau (to name a few). Read more about what advice he would give aspiring players and how he chose carpentry and studying to balance his career.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born in Tokoroa, bred in Auckland. 26 years of age, Kiwi, Samoan. Attended Mt Albert Grammar School (MAGS) and was part of the 2010 National Championship side captained by Michael Fatialofa. Am currently in the middle of a Carpentry Apprenticeship (1 year left).
What has your rugby journey looked like?
I finished at MAGS and became a member of Auckland Rugby’s High Performance Academy for three years. After a season with the Auckland Development team, Alama Ieremia gave me a call to say I was selected for the Manu Samoa Northern Hemisphere tour.My debut was against Italy.
In 2015 I moved regions because Tana Umaga gave me an opportunity to play for Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup. Post ITM cup I signed an interim contract with the Chiefs and a replacement player contract before getting injured in a Chief’s development game.
In 2016 I signed with Waikato for the following two seasons. At the end of the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup season I signed a medical joker with Cardiff Blues based in Wales so I stayed behind after the Northern Hemisphere tour with Manu Samoa (seemed much easier to move straight to Cardiff post tour from November ’16 to May ’17).
In 2018 I moved back to Auckland from Hamilton and played club rugby while trying to figure out what my next steps would be. At the end of 2018 I was lucky enough to be involved with Manu Samoa for the Northern Hemisphere tour.
In 2019 I played club rugby in Auckland again and won the Gallaher shield with Ponsonby. During this time I rekindled my love for the game again as I had spent the last two seasons figuring out a plan and goals.
Post club season I played in the Pacific Nations Cup for Manu Samoa and was very fortunate to be called into the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) squad for injury cover.
How are you feeling about the next move to Austin and how did that come about?
Very excited! I think rugby is going to take off in the US and I wanted to be a part of growing the game there and experiencing a country that I haven’t lived in before. It has also been a few seasons since I’ve been involved with a professional outfit full-time so I am excited to swap throwing my hammer around for a rugby ball again. The opportunity came about from an old representative coach, Brent Semmons. He is now the head coach at Austin and we met up after the World Cup and he indicated there was a vacancy at halfback and the club was keen on offering me a contract.
What have been your highlights and biggest challenges of your career?
A huge highlight for me was playing the All Blacks in Samoa in 2015 – the country was buzzing for weeks, the town and villages were decorated with flags, posters and even statues and to play the way we did was amazing. It was a very tight game. My proudest and biggest highlight would be my first RWC game against Scotland, not only because it was my first cap at the RWC but because it was against my cousin, Sean Maitland.
The biggest challenge was injuring my shoulder in the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup. The tournament was in preparation for the 2015 RWC so I was ruled out through injury.
How have you personally managed setbacks?
My family have been a great support crew and being able to distract myself with study has been very helpful. I managed to gain my Cert 3 and 4 in Personal Training while I was injured which gave me some direction and drive off the field but most of all my amazing fiancé, Michael-Rita, who has supported me from day one and has been the foundation of my perseverance.
How did you feel about making the 2019 Samoa Rugby World Cup squad and then getting to play against your cousin, Sean Maitland?
Extremely grateful! I felt honoured and proud because I was representing my family especially my late grandmother. It had always been a dream to play at the World Cup so to do so it in an amazing hospitable country like Japan felt surreal. Playing against Sean was very special, we joked about it the year before laughing and saying “imagine if we go to the World Cup and actually play against each other,” but I never imagined it would actually happen and having our families there to support both of us was the icing on the cake.
What advice would you give aspiring rugby players/athletes?
Everybody says work hard, but I think be patient as well and don’t be in a rush to crack it straight away. Some players tend to develop later than others which is completely fine. Try and find something outside of rugby that you’re passionate about as it’s important to have balance in your life.
What do you enjoy doing outside of rugby?
Being a builder, I love woodworking and making things so I’m very passionate about anything to do with timber and my fiancé would say I’m a hoarder in that respect haha
Who or what have been your influencers?
My parents have been a huge influence in my life with all the sacrifices they’ve made from fundraising for camps to dropping me off to trainings and buying my rugby gear.
If you could invite 3 people to dinner (still with us or not), who would it be and why?
Both my Grandfathers because I have never met them and Ricky Gervais so I can laugh at all his jokes throughout the night. The dynamic between 3 Samoans and him would be hilarious.
Plans and aspirations for the future?
I don’t have any long term goals specifically, I just want to see where rugby takes me after the next few seasons in the US and would love to see a bit more of the world. If I had to choose one area it would be to play in the UK again. I would love to try and do some coaching post my rugby career at high school and club level, nothing too serious as well as be a carpenter and build houses!
Photo credit: Pacific Illustrated