New Brisbane signing Ilikena Vudogo has followed the same pathway to the NRL as Fijian flyer Semi Radradra and is now training with the club after signing a two-year deal.
The 20-year-old speedster starred for Fiji at last year’s World Rugby Under 20s Trophy in Romania where he was named player of the tournament following a string of scintillating displays at outside centre.
He was drafted into the Fijian sevens senior squad and was earmarked to make his debut in this year’s tournament before the Broncos pounced.
Vudogo is managed by George Christodoulou, who has had great success helping talented Fijians into the NRL, including Viliame Kikau, Suliasi Vunivalu and Radradra, who is now playing rugby with Toulon.
Christodoulou identified Vudogo at Romania where he helped Fiji win the tournament.
“He was player of the tournament and from there they drafted him into the senior Fijian sevens squad,” Christodoulou told NRL.com.
“Ilikena was training with the Fijian side and they were going to blood him this year but we snuck under their guard and pinched him for rugby league.
“We flew over there [to Fiji] and convinced him and his family that the development pathway was better for him in rugby league. Lucky for us they accepted that and signed for the Broncos.
“Semi’s pathway was identical. We spotted him in the under 20s national team at the world championships [in 2011]. He was playing No.13, carved up and got drafted into the senior Fiji national rugby sevens side where he played in three tournaments before we signed him.”
There are clips of Vudogo on the internet where his electrifying speed, dancing feet, offloading ability and penchant for popping up at the right time all feature.
“It is the sort of stuff you can’t really coach but is quite common in Fijian sevens-type players. It is a unique skill set that excites me,” Christodoulou said.
It was those qualities that also caught the eye of Broncos recruitment chief Peter Nolan who has a history of working closely with Christodoulou and Fijian players, with his signing of Radradra at the Eels in 2012 a major coup.
Vudogo, who is one of Brisbane’s six development-list players, has been assigned to Broncos affiliate club Souths-Logan where he is likely to start playing in the BRL competition with a view to progressing to the Intrust Super Cup.
There are high hopes for him although the Broncos are treating the next two years as development seasons.
“It is a big challenge football-wise and lifestyle-wise too, but it is also an exciting challenge for us and something we’ve been doing for six or seven years and that we’ve had good success with,” Christodoulou said.