Ioane honours grandfather's wish
It was the cruellest of ironies that in the month before he made his NRL debut for the Gold Coast Titans, Mark Ioane lost one of the men in his life who had inspired him most with three simple words: Never. Give. Up.
Faga Faga (pronounced fung-ah fung-ah) Langkilde was not a rugby league man as such, just a proud grandfather who saw talent in young Mark that others have perhaps taken longer to recognise.
Exactly 12 months after making his NRL debut against the Warriors in Auckland, the suspension to in-form front-rower Matthew White has given Ioane the opportunity to add to his seven games from 2013 and become a permanent member of the Titans top 17, starting with Sunday's meeting with the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt.
It's the latest step in a rugby league journey that began with the Junior Warriors' premiership team of 2010, spent two years going between the Canberra Raiders and their Sydney-based feeder team, Mounties, and for the past two seasons has consisted largely of playing for Burleigh Bears in the Intrust Super Cup.
It's enough to test the will and determination of any man but Ioane insists, with Faga Faga's words still ringing in his hear, giving up was never an option.
"He was pretty much the one that kept me going, just thinking about all the chances I could have had in league," Ioane recalls. "All the times I didn't get selected for teams, he kept me going, just telling me to be strong and to never give up. That were the main three words he gave me, 'Never give up'.
"He was my mum's dad and he was just one of the main role models that I looked up to. I didn't meet any of my dad's parents except for when I was a little baby, they passed away when I was about one year old back in Samoa, so I didn't get to meet my grandparents on my dad's side. He was my only grandparent that I had so I was pretty close to him.
"It was hard not to have him at my debut and it was just the week after it happened but he got me through it and he's still helping me out now.
"I had my whole family there [for my debut], family and friends. It was by coincidence that it happened over there and I was pretty lucky to get my chance there. I loved every minute of it, I can't really explain it, it was the best feeling after a long two years in Canberra. But it just showed that with a bit of patience you can get there."
At 185 centimetres and 109 kilograms Ioane is not your typically imposing prop forward but after an admittedly slow start to the season he has been a powerhouse up front for Burleigh in recent weeks, prompting coach John Cartwright to elevate him in White's absence.
Burleigh coach Carl Briggs was effusive in his praise for not only Ioane's performances on the field, but the energy and professionalism he brings whenever he is part of the Bears' video sessions on Tuesdays or training runs later in the week.
"He's always one of the first to turn up. He's very eager to learn and he's very eager to better himself which is a testament to him as a person," Briggs said.
"He's a player that the players love to play with and that's probably the biggest praise that can be given to him, when the players around him actually want to play with him.
"He comes back and he's never long-faced, his attitude's superb and he does everything asked of him. You can't ask any more than that when you get players coming back to you."
Having been stuck behind tall timber in the shape of David Shillington (194cm), Brett White (189cm), Dane Tilse (200cm) and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (194cm) at the Raiders, Ioane is now competing for a place in a Titans front row rotation that includes White, Luke Bailey, Luke Douglas, Nate Myles and Ryan James but Cartwright has no doubt a long NRL career awaits the now 23-year-old.
"He did a tremendous job for us last season when he made his debut and had some good games," Cartwright said. "The fact that he forced his way into the side... We've got a pretty good front row roster there.
"He's only very young for a front-rower, especially in terms of rugby league experience, he hasn't played a lot of rugby league. I see him, whether it's this year or in future years, playing a lot of first grade.
"He works very hard and he's very astute and he works hard on his game so he's got a lot of first grade in him so having the patience and understanding that it's going to come [is very important].
"He's generally the first guy here [at training] and the last to leave, he works on all parts of his game and he just wants to learn. There's nothing I don't like about him, he's got enormous potential."
With his side flying high equal at the top of the competition table, Ioane knows that the pressure now is to maintain the high standards that have been set by the forwards thus far and to make sure that positive attitude translates to game-day.
"I knew I started off slow at the beginning of the season. I knew I had to set a platform for myself and set a standard that at the start of the season I wasn't really happy with," Ioane admitted. "I've started to get there with the few games I've had with Burleigh.
"I know what they expect from me out on the field and I can't drop the standard, especially with the performance of 'Whitey', he's a big loss to our team."