Rugby: Christchurch prop Kalle Valiamaki surprised by prestigious award at Finnish Halbergs

When Christchurch's premier rugby competition kicks off this season, one player will take the field with some unique international honours on his sporting CV.

Finnish prop Kalle Valimaki has made a name for himself on the pitch locally, but he's also been recognised from far further afield.

The 26-year-old front-rower will proceed with a spring in his step, after a surprise phone call from his father back home.

"He said, 'You won Player of the Year at the Finnish sports awards’," Valimaki tells Newshub. "I couldn't believe it."

Valimaki had no idea he'd even been nominated, after moving to New Zealand four years ago and playing senior rugby for Methven in Mid Canterbury.

Last year, he was part of the team that won the Mid Canterbury club competition for the Watters Cup.

He suspects that helped him secure Finland's highest rugby honour. The award was handed out at the Finnish Sports Gala, the equivalent of New Zealand's Halbergs.

Although this year’s event was pared back because of COVID-19, past events have featured performances by famous Finnish musicians and honoured sporting superstars like Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen

"In a perfect situation, if I was in Finland, I could actually go and attend the sports gala and mingle with the top athletes of the country," says Valimaki. 

Valimaki, who's first job was wrestling reindeer at a tourist attraction, has his sights set on playing in Christchurch's Metro premier club grade this season, hoping to make Sumner's division one team.

The team's coach is excited to have the best Finnish rugby player in his ranks.

"We're privileged to have a big prop, but also to have the only Finnish prop in the country, I suspect," Jacob Mangin tells Newshub.  

"We're so stoked for him and over the moon to have a prospect like him come in."

Kalle Valimaki now calls New Zealand home, but apparently Finland hasn't forgotten him.