'Journeyman' Iona thrilled at pathway now available for Victoria's Rising stars

by Emma Greenwood

Journeyman might be a tag that applies to Rodney Iona's rugby career but it's one he hopes will not fit the next generation of Victorian players.

The Melbourne product had to leave home to follow his rugby dreams, heading to the Brumbies, before weaving a path around the world that has led to stints in France, Spain and with the Western Force, before coming full circle during this NRC season with the Rising.

The capped Samoan Test player is thriving playing back in front of family and friends in Melbourne, where he has seen great change for the next generation of Victorian rugby talent.

"I've seen a lot change from when I was there in my junior days," the 28-year-old said.

"I was born and raised in Melbourne and played all my junior rugby through Vic Rugby but at the time the Melbourne Rebels didn't have a team so I had to go and join the Brumbies Academy and it just went from there.

"There is definitely a pathway to the Rebels and I think Victorian Rugby are doing a great job through the Vic program and then on to the Rising program.

"It's good to see a lot of the club boys given a chance to put their best foot forward for the Melbourne Rebels and the Melbourne Rising, so I definitely see a change to the pathway."

Iona and the Rising play Brisbane City at Bottomley Park on Saturday, with Melbourne out of finals contention after a late loss to Fiji last round.

After losing their first three fixtures of the season, the Rising combination clicked and they put themselves in the finals frame with consecutive wins and a big halftime lead against the Drua.

But the defending champions hit back to win a thriller in Melbourne last week in what Iona conceded was a bitter pill to swallow.

"It was very disappointing," he said.

"Leading that first half was a good boost going into the second half thinking that we were possibly going to make the finals but it was a bit disappointing at the end (and) … unfortunately we couldn't go all the way."

It has made the Rising determined to finish their season with a bang though and end Brisbane's slim chances of making the semi-finals.

"We spoke about it at training and the boys are raring to go again for the last time together and make it a good campaign."

While he did not start the first two games of the season, Iona has made every post a winner since snaring the no.10 jersey in round three and hopes he may be able to parlay his Rising stint into an opportunity with the Rebels.

at this stage, we're just focusing on Rising. We've been in talks with the Rebels in terms of preps-season and next year, so we'll just get this game out of the way and then hopefully see what lies for us in the future between the Rebels and I."

A capped Test player, Iona said he was disappointed not to have made the side for the Rugby World Cup but hopes to continue his international career after last playing for Manu Samoa last year.

"I was at the Western Force and I wasn't getting an opportunity to play the position they wanted me to so I had to come down here and get a game or two to try and make the World Cup and get them to see me at 10 but unfortunately it didn't work out," Iona said.

"It's pretty disappointing, it's the pinnacle of a rugby player's career to play at the World Cup but at the end of the day, it is what it is and I'm looking forward to hopefully representing the country soon."

For now, Iona is reveling in being able to play for the Rising in front of those who have supported him for so many years without being able to watch many of his games in person.

"From 2009-2019 (I was away) and then this year I've come back and played for the Rising.

"I've been fortunate enough to go around the world and play in various teams and I'm just happy to come back and play for my home town whether it's the Rising or the Rebels.

"It's good to be back home and playing in front of mum and dad and my family and friends, they've been a big support.

"My parents unfortunately haven't been able to come and watch me play rugby for a long time, so it was awesome to play in front of mum and dad, they're the ones that drive me to play this game - and my family.

"To be back and playing in front of them at Ballarat and Box Hill and Casey, which is just down the road from me, so a lot of my family and friends were there, it was pretty special."

The Rising take on Brisbane City in the final fixture round of the NRC at Bottomley Park in Brisbane, on Saturday, October 12, kicking off at 4pm AEST. All games in round seven will be broadcast LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo.