As seen on nzherald.co.nz
Kiwi wrecking ball Valynce Te Whare has become an instant cult hero after a stunning debut for the Dolphins in their win over the Sharks last night.
Te Whare, who only converted to league 18 months ago, has been dubbed ‘Val Meninga’ by fans after scoring twice in the 36-16 victory.
Te Whare played eight NPC games for Waikato in the 2019 and 2020 seasons before a brief stint at King Country. Late in 2021 he signed a deal with the Dolphins to make the switch to rugby league, more than a year before the franchise’s first ever game. He impressed in the Hostplus Cup last season being named Centre of the Year and continued that form to earn his NRL call-up this week.
Playing centre with a forward’s frame, the 22-year-old scored his first NRL try by pushing off four Sharks defenders in the 23rd minute to give the home team an early 18-0 lead. He added another try in the second half.
Following his impressive performance, Kiwis in the stands and fellow teammates paid tribute to the star debutant by performing an emotional haka for Te Whare.
Te Whare then acknowledged the fans and his teammates by joining in before hugging family, friends and supporters in the stands.
Te Whare was praised by league experts and commentators for his performance on Saturday.
“Impossible to stop at close range. There are comparisons physically with an immortal, with Mal Meninga and that was an awesome run to get to the try line,” Fox Sport commentator Dan Ginnane said.
Fellow commentator and Broncos great Corey Parker was astounded by Te Whare’s power.
“On debut, only moments ago he got stood up by Mulitalo. But have a look at this, from a standing start the power and acceleration,” he said.
Ginnane added: “You can see the joy he brings. Talking about cult hero at the end of the season, his first grade career is just 24 minutes old — he’s a cult hero now.”
Last week Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett was made aware of the Val Meninga nickname but wasn’t buying it.
“There is no way you can get that surname out in one mouthful so he is known as Val Smith around here,” he said.
“Val Meninga. I like that line,” Bennett continued.
“I saw that the other day and I thought, ‘What are the similarities between him and Mal Meninga?”
“I coached Mal. He is a great player and a great guy. I thought the only similarity was his shorts. I reckon they are both the same size. He is no Mal Meninga, I can tell you that.”
According to NRL.com, Te Whare was the 183rd player to be given an NRL debut by Bennett with the Dolphins’ clash against the Sharks his 900th in charge.
“He is one of the first players we signed here. (Recruitment manager) Peter O’Sullivan saw him in New Zealand playing rugby in the schoolboys,” he said.
“To his credit he has worked really hard and had to make a pretty big adaption from rugby to rugby league. We have invested quite a bit of time in him. It has worked out for both parties.”