Australian Rules: Kiwi rugby league convert Mykelti Lefau realises AFL dream with Richmond Tigers

New Zealand's Mykelti Lefau was understandably overcome with emotion, after realising his dream of becoming a fully fledged AFL player.

Lefau moved across the Tasman during his early teens to join Melbourne Storm's NRL developmental program, before turning discovering Australian Rules as the age of 16 years.

He rapidly rose through the regional ranks, earning a spot in Richmond's VFL side, which acts as a feeder league to the AFL.  

On Monday, the 26-year-old rugby league convert learned he'd earned the final roster spot with Melbourne's Richmond Tigers for the 2024 season.

Mykelti Lefau tells his parents of his AFL selection.
Mykelti Lefau tells his parents of his AFL selection. Photo credit: Getty Images

Of course, the first person he shared his news with was his mum in a phone call filled with plenty of happy tears, before his dad celebrated with a hearty yelp of joy and a huge helping of encouragement and congratulations.

"I was pretty shaken up before," Lefau admitted.

"Obviously just a rollercoaster of emotions - just so much pride and all those sorts of feelings."

Lefau first captured the attention of recruiters with a show-stealing 25-goal haul in a match for St Kilda City as an 18-year-old, signalling his raw potential and turning plenty of heads.

His elevation to the senior side is the latest step in a challenging road to recovery from a devastating ACL injury which temporarily halted his momentum in 2022.

Lefau quickly picked up where he left off upon his return, shining in his final pre-season hitout against the Demons last weekend, where the 195cm, 96kg utility's physicality and work rate made him impossible for the selectors to overlook.

"Mykelti has worked hard to put himself in this position, from learning the game as a teenager to coming back from a serious injury last year," Richmond national recruiting manager Matt Clarke said.

"He has not put a foot wrong since he came to our club and has shown across the past three months that he can blossom in a professional environment."

While the likes of new teammate Dustin Martin, Melbourne's Max Gawn, and Western Australia's Zac Fisher were born in Australia to at least one Kiwi parent, Lefau is the only NZ-born and raised prospect in the AFL.

He hopes to blaze a trail for a new generation of Kiwis to adopt the sport.

"New Zealanders, Islanders everyone," he said. "I want to be the guy to open the pathway to them, because there's so much untapped talent there.  

"It starts from grassroots obviously and when you're playing just rugby, they don't really see footy.

Mykelti Lefau.
Mykelti Lefau. Photo credit: Getty Images

"If they had that opportunity when they were younger there'd be a heaps bigger pool of players."

Lefau hopes to find his feet in the forwards, where he says the toughness from his days on the rugby league field translates perfectly to the oval.

But he confesses learning the nuances of Aussie Rules aggression took some adjustment.

"All of the technical stuff, you've got to be smart with it," he noted.

"That was a big learning curve for me. How to get my body in the right position because you don't want to injure someone or get in trouble or anything like that."

Next on the list of boxes to tick for Lefau will be making his senior squad debut and trying to earn regular selection to the game-day squad.  

Richmond open their 2024 campaign on the road against the Gold Coast on March 9.

"Hopefully I'll bring some ecxitement," he said. "A bit of a new flavour.

"There's not too many profiles like me I suppose, so try to bring something fresh for the fans."