Real impact... Reni Maitua's impact at Belmore is a lot more than the nine minutes he got against the Raiders last Friday night. Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos
It's the emboldening friendship that Reni Maitua hopes could be the lasting legacy of what would be a distinguished, if a little colourful, career.
After almost 11 seasons in the NRL, including the two years he spent sidelined for testing positive to a banned substance, life for Maitua the Footballer isn't far from coming to a close.
But that's where life for Maitua the Resident Sage begins.
When the 32-year-old indefinitely gave up alcohol after his terrifying brush with death last year, little did he know the profound effect his decision would have on a future teammate 12 years his junior.
Yet as soon as he met rookie playmaker Moses Mbye, the former Bulldog suddenly realised why he was destined to finish his career where it started.
"I’d love to finish my career at this club as high as possible in terms of, you know, a grand final would be the dream that every footballer wants to finish a career on – the fairytale ending," Maitua tells NRL.com.
"But I’ve sort of taken on a role as a bit of a leader and a mentor for the young kids, especially guys in reserve grade. I really enjoy being around the reserve grade boys. A lot of them are like 10 years younger than me."
One kid in particular, he of the self-absorbed i-generation, caught his eye. And so, like a couple of lovebirds in their honeymoon period, the two have spent much of the season not only side by side, but also completely sober – a rarity in the blokey fraternity that is rugby league.
"When I told him that I wasn’t going to drink for a long period of time – if ever again – he took that on board and he hasn’t drank all year himself," Maitua says.
"There’s a couple of players there that, they’ve listened to words you say, because they know that I’ve lived the life and I do have the experience of the dos and donts.
"Moses in particular is someone I’ve spent a lot of time with. He’s only 20 years old and I see so much potential in the future of his game. He’s already had to grow up quite fast, and he’s already got that football brain. I can tell how bad he wants it.
"I do talk to the other players, but he’s one in particular that I’ve really taken under my wing, trying to get him stay at my house as much as possible and teach him what’s right and wrong."
Often times, Maitua says, the effect has been reciprocal.
"I feed off him too," he says. "We both don’t drink, we haven’t drank for a long, long time. Whatever knowledge I can pass on now, at the end of my career, it’d be something I can be proud of when I finish as well."
It's been over six months since Maitua returned to Belmore and he's had just three short stints of first grade to show for it.
But, and this is the stuff legacies are built on, it's been over eight months since he last touched a drop of alcohol – and the results have been so much better, so much healthier, that he's even contemplated giving it up for life.
"Obviously if we win the premiership I could have a couple of drinks," he points out. "But I didn't put a timeframe on it. I didn't say I was going to drink at this point or that point. I didn't want to set any goals.
"I take it day by day. I haven't drunk for about eight months, but I'd like it to be for the rest of my life, not just the rest of my career. I'll see what happens. I don't think about drinking and I don't want to drink. If that means for the rest of my life, then I'm happy with that."