Mykelti Lefau during the round two match between Richmond and Port Adelaide at the MCG, March 24, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

MYKELTI Lefau had never heard of AFL when he moved from Auckland to Melbourne in 2012.

Rugby League was his winter code of choice when he swapped sides of the Tasman Sea at 13. The NRL was the plan, but that plan changed a long time ago.  

Not long after the New Zealander moved to Australia to live with his dad, Lefau joined Melbourne Storm’s development program at AAMI Park. He played in the under 16s and 18s, but by then it was the Sherrin not the Steeden that had become his focus.  

Lefau started playing at St Kilda City and once kicked 25 goals in an under-19s match. That planted a seed. Rather than move to New South Wales or Queensland to chase a rugby league dream at reserve grade, he landed a gig with the Casey Demons in the VFL. That was in 2016.

Mykelti Lefau in action during the round two match between Richmond and Port Adelaide at the MCG, March 24, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Nothing and everything has happened fast. It took Lefau years to master the fundamentals of the game while playing local footy. It took him years to cement a spot in the VFL. 

But after being invited to trial during the pre-season supplemental selection period this summer, Lefau made his debut for Richmond against Port Adelaide on Sunday, just 34 days after securing a rookie deal. 

"Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen this fast," Lefau told after a whirlwind debut.

"I was still getting over getting a contract, getting a spot on the team. I did not think that I would be playing by round two. Definitely not."

The first piece of advice someone gave Lefau when he started playing junior football was to watch AFL games. Pick a player and try to emulate them on Sunday mornings was the message. He didn't watch any football back then, but his dad, like most dads, was drawn to Lance Franklin. That meant Lefau did his best Buddy impressions in the Southern Football League. 

Standing 195cm and weighing 96kg, Lefau turned heads when he joined Casey with a rare blend of explosive athleticism and intimidating brutality. It was there, in Cranbourne, when he started dreaming about bigger things. 

"That year when I went to Casey was when it [getting drafted] became a goal," Lefau said.

"I was so raw and a lot of people were excited by what I brought to the team. I had to knuckle down and learn. I was there for two or three years. There was a lot of hype when I went there, then it sort of fizzled out. You lose that passion a little bit. I didn't think I was going to play VFL footy again after the COVID year but then Richmond came up."


Box Hill has proven to be a very lucrative program for Hawthorn since the alignment began in 2001, but the VFL program inside the Swinburne Centre has been reaping rewards of late. Tylar Young and James Trezise have both become full-time Tigers after being part of the part-time program in the VFL. Jake Aarts played 42 senior games for Richmond, while Massimo D’Ambrosio and Sam Durham have become regular AFL players. 

Lefau played the first six games of Richmond's 2022 VFL campaign before rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Port Melbourne. A spot on an AFL list looked a long way away then, but Lefau didn't drop his bundle. Instead, he drew inspiration from former New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who recovered from an ACL tear in 2017 to win his third Super Bowl the following February. 

"No, I definitely did not think it was over. I am a pretty positive guy. I know a lot of stories about people that have come back from ACLs even stronger," he said.


"Julian Edelman came back and turned into a complete freakin' animal. He had hell injuries man, but he came back super strong. Edelman is a beast. That is why I never thought it was over."

It was fitting that VFL coach Steve Morris announced that Lefau would make his debut inside Richmond's theatrette last Friday. New senior coach Adem Yze grabbed him minutes before the first bounce on Sunday and told him he was no longer starting as the sub. Maurice Rioli had hurt his back in the warm-up and was out. Lefau was in the 22. 

By that point in the afternoon, the Tigers' rooms were still vibrating following a rousing rendition of the Haka by Lefau's family and friends inside the bowels of the MCG. 

"It was filled with so much spirit. It got me amped up, maybe too early, but it was awesome," he said.”

Opportunities were few and far between against Port Adelaide, but the hulking forward didn't waste the chance to nail new Power key defender Esava Ratugolea when the moment presented. Lefau is focused on making the most of an opportunity that many Aussie kids dream about it, but never get to live.  

"Anything is possible," he said. "I just want to play consistent footy, get better every day. As long as I just knuckle down, be smart with myself and my decisions, I can go anywhere."