Colby Fainga’a will tonight join brother Saia in the RUPA Centurions Club, the first time two brothers have each played 100 Super Rugby matches for Australian teams.
It’s a phenomenal achievement, highlighted by the fact that the extremely durable backrower only turned 27 earlier this year, and one which may come as a surprise to those who’ve always seen Colby fly a little under the radar.
A schoolboy representative star, Colby represented his country at that level before playing for Australia in the World Rugby U20s Championship two years in a row, Captaining the side in the second year (2011) as they finished second and then third.
The achievements of his elder brothers, twins Anthony and Saia, are well known; combined, they boast 220 Super Rugby caps, and 58 Wallabies caps. A third brother, Vili, has also played Test Rugby for Tonga, the country of origin of the brothers’ late father, so the attention has had to be spread among the quartet.
Fairly quiet but very friendly, and incredibly calm in conversation off the field, Colby has so far been unable to break into Test Rugby with the 7 jersey for the Wallabies almost exclusively owned by Michael Hooper and David Pocock over the past decade.
Plenty of good judges have him right in the mix, and speak to those who know Colby and they’ll tell you of an outstanding Rugby player and man with an insatiable work ethic, first class preparation and exemplary character; and wonderful leadership.
Moving to Melbourne in 2014 after 35 games for the Brumbies Fainga’a made an instant impact at the Rebels, according to former teammate Lachlan Mitchell.
“Colby came to the Club on the back of a great season at the Brumbies, so there was genuine excitement in the squad that he was coming,” Mitchell said.
“Right from the get-go, Colby was a rock; just absolute composure all the time, never lost his cool and just delivered to an incredibly high standard so consistently.”
Any notion of Fainga’a as an unsung hero down south is quickly dispelled, particularly when you realise he is one of just seven players remaining at the Club since 2014 as he comes close to the end of his fifth season in Melbourne.
“He has certainly not flown under the radar in Melbourne, “Mitchell said.
“If you speak to any Rebels past or present player, everybody rates him so highly. It’s been interesting for me (since retiring) that when you become a punter and sit with the fans, you get the true pulse of what they actually think.
“The level of support among the fans at AAMI Park for Colby is really high and they genuinely love him. Colby is huge for the Rebels; everybody wants him to start every week and play 80 minutes, so he is a source of both anxiety (if that doesn’t happen) and excitement (when he is on the field) for the supporters.”
Colby’s ability over the ball is universally respected among the competition, contributing many a crucial turnover, while his skills with ball in hand have seen him almost labelled a quasi-back from time to time.
“As a winger who thought I was a centre, I was definitely a bit jealous of the fact that he was more of a centre than I was,” Mitchell laughs. Colby’s current Rebels teammate Tom English agrees wholeheartedly, having played alongside him for the entirety of his time in Melbourne.
“Colby’s ability to link the backs and forwards through his passing is second to none,” English said. “He has been one of the in-form flankers in Super Rugby for the last five years, and we rely on him when times get tough to pull out one of those tough pilfers or earn us a penalty.
“He has gotten us out of many a hole in the past, and his consistency and composure in high-pressure situations has been the difference between us winning and losing some games in the past.
“He played sixty minutes at scrumhalf in South Africa last year, and he’s also spent some time at 12, so that just shows how versatile and skilful he is. I can’t tell you how many kicks he puts in at training, I’m yet to see one at Super Rugby level but I’m sure we will see one soon enough!”
Away from footy, you only need to look at Colby’s Instagram account or read this interview on the Rebels website to know how much his family (wife Loren, daughter Georgia & new arrival Oscar) mean to him.
“He devotes a lot of time to his family, and his family are probably the core structure of his life and why he plays Rugby,” English said. “To see him raise his little girl as she’s faced some health challenges, and the amount of time he invests to making sure she has the best attention and help she needs, is amazing to watch.
“He’s the first one to do what he needs on the field and tick all of the boxes at training, but then he is also at home playing a second and equally important role alongside Loren raising their kids.
“When his old man passed away last year it was a really tough time for him and you could see he was quite emotional, but he decided to play the Blues game anyway. As we were singing the anthem, you could see him with his arms around his mates and a few tears in his eyes and that just showed how important it was for him to play that game. That’s such a credit to him, and that sort of attitude is why he has that 100 caps under the belt.”
Colby’s leadership and status as a role model is one of the key reasons why he is so respected, and Mitchell says that was apparent from the moment he arrived in Melbourne as a then twenty-three-year-old.
“He did impart great leadership upon the group. I recall him doing it in a way that was very measured and calm, and without trying to make it sound like a business he was really good at managing every player differently. He gained respect to the point that people would listen, and when he did speak everybody was engaged. He didn’t have to say anything more than once.”
That leadership goes beyond Rugby, with English revealing the impact he has had on his teammates off the field.
“As one of the first of our age group to start a family and have kids, Colby has gone about that as a bit of a role model to everybody else in the team.
“When it comes to his approach to footy he is probably the most professional person that I have come across and the person I like to mark myself against when I am trying to measure up as an athlete and a person. He encompasses everything that it means to be a professional athlete, he is one of the hardest working and most diligent guys and doesn’t say a lot but when he does there is always a lot of weight behind it. “
Asked what he’d like to say to Colby ahead of the big game, English summed it up perfectly:
“My message would be to just go out there and do what you’ve always done, and just because it’s your 100th nothing changes. Remember how and why you’ve got here, because you’re such a talented player, and go out there and enjoy it. He’s just such a special player to have on your team.
“As a player you don’t get many milestones this significant, and not many people make it to 100 so it’s a significant achievement, and I’ll be right there beside you with a smile on my face.”
Congratulations Colby Fainga’a, the 59th member of the RUPA Centurions Club!
Colby Fainga’a Fact File:
Born: Queanbeyan, 31st March, 1991
Super Rugby Caps: 99, 25 points (5 tries)
NRC Caps (Melbourne Rising): 10, 25 points (5 tries)
Honours: Australian Schoolboys 2008 (St. Edmund’s College), Australia U20s 2010, 2011 (Captain), Melbourne Rebels Players’ Player of the Year (2014), Runner Up (2017)
RUPA Centurions Club (By year of reaching 100th cap for Australian teams in Super Rugby)
2004 - George Gregan
2006 - Brendan Cannon, Stephen Larkham, Jeremy Paul, Chris Whitaker, Bill Young
2007 - Chris Latham
2008 - David Lyons, Stirling Mortlock, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith
2009 - Sean Hardman, Scott Staniforth, Phil Waugh, Matt Dunning
2011 - Al Baxter, Mark Chisholm, Matt Giteau
2012 - Adam Freier, Mark Gerrard, Nic Henderson
2013 - Adam Ashley-Cooper, Greg Holmes, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson
2014 - Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Saia Fainga'a, Matt Hodgson, James Horwill, Wycliff Palu
2015 - Ben Alexander, Mitch Chapman, Pek Cowan, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Stephen Hoiles, Christian Leali’ifano
2016 - Dave Dennis, Rob Horne, Dean Mumm, Rob Simmons
2017 - James Hanson, Michael Hooper, Mitch Inman, Sekope Kepu, Nick Phipps, Laurie Weeks
2018 – Sam Carter, Kane Douglas, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani, David Pocock, Paddy Ryan, James Slipper, Henry Speight