From the island of Tonga to the United States, Roy Helu was a role model for the international rugby community. Beginning his rugby career at a young age, he played for the Pangai Rugby Club in Ha’apai, Tonga from 1966 to 1976, helping them reach a club championship title in 1975. His exceptional play led him to a spot on the Tonga U23 side in 1976, contributing to both test match wins against Fiji that year. After a stint in New Zealand, Helu made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area where he joined the Old Blues Rugby Club. Roy became an immediate impact player for the Blues, leading the club to six National Championship titles, 10 Pacific Coast Championships, and multiple appearances in the Monterey Tournament in his 10-year tenure. He served as vice captain and captain on numerous occasions and garnered several accolades for his play including tournament MVP at the 1983 National Championship Tournament. Roy was selected to several representative sides in California including the Pelicans and the Grizzlies from 1982 to 1987.
“Roy Helu was known for his hard running and his ferocious tackling in the mid field. He was a skillful passer and kicker and had a step that left many an opposition back who was marking Roy wondering where he went. Roy was always one of the most fit players on the pitch, and he had a great knowledge of the game, helping his team to understand how to exploit a weakness and better the opposition with his uncanny reading of the opposing team,” said Moses Similai.
Helu’s standout play with the Grizzlies landed him a spot with the Eagles on both 15 and 7s sides. He became the first Tongan to play for the USA Eagles which opened the door for many players of Tongan descent to come. From 1982 to 1987, he earned 14 caps and appeared in 34 games at center on various tours against Canada, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Japan. Helu was also a member of the inaugural 1987 USA Rugby World Cup team playing in matches against Australia and Japan.
After the conclusion of his playing career, Helu transitioned to coaching in 2009. His coaching career began with the Danville Oaks Youth/High School Rugby Club at the high school varsity level. During the 2011-2012 season, Danville was ranked No. 1 in the country and in 2015 placed second in the National Invitational Tournament. In 2016, Helu coached Danville to a Pacific Coast Tournament Championship title. He has also coached for the Old Gaels Men’s Club and Serra High School Rugby.
“His major contributions started with his firm embrace of the Danville Oaks alongside Jon Straka. Roy’s impact on the high school game was nothing but spectacular. Roy’s demands (and I don’t use the word lightly with Roy) on the players set quite a standard of excellence. This loose band of high school ball players soon became quite a force losing few if any games but most importantly the club grew exponentially with many former players taking up coaching roles just to be shoulder to shoulder with coach Roy. Coaches wanted to get a piece of Roy and his insights into the sport. Catch him at the right time and he’d fill you with hours of rugby talk. Roy’s ability to inspire, teach and mentor high schoolers for nearly 10 years was a gift those players will never forget,” said former Old Blues and Eagles teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Tim O’Brien.