A Tribute to the Legendary Lolani Koko as he is Laid to Rest in Samoa

"New Zealand then pounced on the notion and named him for their squad - but Lolani jumped ship in Auckland and chose to come back to play for Samoa - and the rest is history.."

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King Koko is Laid to Rest, by Leilua Jerry Uesele, Sydney Australia.

The man Mountain that helped Manu Samoa 7s claim its historical first World Rugby title in Hong Kong in 1993 was laid to rest yesterday at his home in Malie, Samoa.

Lolani Koko or better known as Misaolefalemalietoa Lolani ruled the roost in Samoa and World Rugby with his sheer speed, size and skills – way before Inga the Winger and later Jonah Lomu arrived on the scene.

He made his debut in 1983 before Samoa hosted the 7th South Pacific Games in Apia and took the Manu straight into the winners circle when Samoa defeated Fiji in Suva 6-0.

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That same year he made his debut for Samoa in Hong Kong and ten years later, he led Samoa to finally lift the prestigious Hong Kong 7s Championship trophy.

The 1993 Hong Kong 7s team.

Lolani Koko was deservedly awarded MVP of the Hong Kong 7s that year as he helped to disrupt and put an end to Waisale Serevi’s attempts to claim a fourth consecutive title for Fiji.

“He was originally omitted from that 1993 team when he chose to sit for the Malua Theological College’s Entry Exams,” recalls head coach Lilomaiava Taufusi Salesa.

“New Zealand then pounced on the notion and named him for their squad – but Lolani jumped ship in Auckland and chose to come back to play for Samoa – and the rest is history,” said Lilomaiava.

Lolani Koko ran riot from pool play and into the quarterfinals against Scotland. But it was against the New Zealand All Blacks in the semis that stamped his mark in Manu Samoa glory under the watch of Team Manager, the late Marina Schafhaussen.

Faced with three All Blacks speedsters Marc Ellis, John Timu and Glen Osbourne, all Manu Samoa halfback Ofisa Tonu’u did was serve playmakers Filipo Saena (Matamua Fainuulelei) and Andy Aiolupo (Toleafoa) enough possession to create space and unleash the menacing Lolani to gallop full length tries and knock the Kiwis out.

On the other side of the scale Fiji had beaten South Africa in the quarters with the likes of James Small, Chester Williams, Andre Joubert and Joost VD Westhuizen.

The Wallabies went down in the semis to Serevi and Fiji despite efforts by Tim Horan, David Campese and Jason Little.

Lolani’s looming frame overshadowed the flamboyant Fijians in the finals with brickwall defence alongside a young 21-year-old Brian Lima to conquer Serevi and Fiji 14-12 to win Samoa its first and only Hong Kong 7s title.

Now himself the head coach of the national 7s team, Muliagatele Fata Brian Lima recalls being the youngest on the team. “Growing up I always wanted to play like Lolani and Taufusi, and then there we were creating history for Samoa in Hong Kong 1993.”

Whites legends Lolani Koko and Filipo Saena.

Muliagatele pays tribute to his former team mate Misaolefalemalietoa Lolani.. “Faafetai Tele Uso. I’ve learnt a lot from you. Manuia Tele lau Malaga.”

In 1986 he chose to fly home and play for Samoa against the Touring Wales team that boasted Jonathan Davies thus missing out on the All Blacks trials in Auckland.

Many NZ scribes believed Koko would’ve made the All Blacks for that inaugural 1987 World Cup.

Instead he entertained his people at Apia Park with memorable runs and barges on opposite Welsh winger Carl Webbe that brought huge applause from the home fans. It was what made him happy.

Lolani Koko was loyal to Samoa and his Moataa Club.

In 1987 following the Tri Nations between Fiji, Samoa and Tonga he was selected alongside Taufusi Salesa, Afa Leu’u and Andy Aiolupo to tour apartheid sanctioned South Africa with the South Seas Barbarians for a 13-match tour including two disguised matches against the South African Barbarians featuring Naas Botha and all the Springboks of that era.

The Pacific Islanders won 10 matches drew one and lost narrowly to the Springboks XV with Lolani Koko mesmerising the South Africans with barnstorming runs and scintillating tries never seen before in Zulu Land.

In both tests he exposed Springboks wingers Michel Duplessis and Chris Badenhorst with power and pace eight years before South African rugby returned to the International arena and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

In 1988 he captained the first Samoan Tour of Wales and Ireland, blitzing Irish and Welsh defenders from the wing.

The test match against Wales at the old Cardiff Arms Park was the biggest crowd Samoa had played infront, with over 50,000. Samoa’s only try that day was by the late Saini Lemamea ensued from a 70 metre break from strapping Lolani Koko who broke the Welsh defence.

He missed out of the 1991 World Cup due to injury but gave his all for the 1993 Hong Kong Sevens triumph.

The multi-talented Lolani was selected for the Samoan Soccer Team in 1994 after a stint with Moataa Soccer Club but in 1995 he switched to Rugby League and captained the Toa Samoa to the 1995 World Cup in France.

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In his final days at Avele College he ran the 400m in 47 seconds just 4 seconds shy of the current World and Olympic Record which is 43.03 seconds. He clocked that time in 1982 on Avele’s lopsided field and at the Apia Park sand tracks.

If he had formal training in the United States of America or Austrlia back then he would’ve been Olympic material. A claim his former coach and Principal the late Seiuli Paul Wallwork was adamant about.

He was a member of the Champion Avele College 1st XV that won the World Schools Championship in Taiwan 1982. An incredible sight in full flight for Avele’s Athletics squad of the early 80’s before being enlisted as a Police Constable.

A deacon and lay preacher at his EFKS Dandenong Victoria in Melbourne he was a Sunday school teacher and choir member.

”We will miss you our reliable and humble brother Misaolefalemalietoa Lolani Koko,” Rev Viliamu Finau

As his former Moataa and Manu Samoa teammate Falepauga Matamua Filipo Saena remarked in his euology, “We will miss you and your talent, your contribution to villages, family, church and country Uso. Farewell.”

His role in Moataa’s Championship run during the Marist International Sevens from 1988-1993 will live in memory forever as the Whites slayed Rugby giants from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Tonga.

Moataa won the Marist 7s every year from 1988 – 1993.

He was also the President of his Avele College Old Pupils Association in Melbourne Australia. He had travelled with them to attend the 100th Year Celebrations.

Nicknaned ‘Manuiti’ for his song that he sang for his Avele initiation ‘pasiga leo’. Fittingly a week before his passing he was awarded with a Service Award during AVELE College 100th Year Celebrations honouring a remarkable life.

Remembered for his quiet and unassuming ways this King of Rugby spoke very little but made a massive statement once the whistle blew.

He is survived by his beloved wife Tagaloa Salome Masoe Koko, their five children Mikal, Rachel, Ali, Leahrina, Manaia-Isala and their six grandchildren.


Leilua Jerry Uesele