Hat-trick hero Penani Manumaleali'i has dedicated his Pacific Test man-of-the-match performance to his late mother May, who died in a tragic car accident during the World Cup last November.
Manumaleali'i was a standout in Samoa's 32-16 victory over Fiji at Penrith's Sportingbet Stadium, helping clinch the fourth and final spot in the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year.
But the win was a particularly poignant one for the Cronulla five-eighth who, having been informed of his mother's passing away late last year, was told by his father to finish the World Cup campaign in Europe.
The 21-year-old proceeded to dislocate his elbow 15 minutes into Samoa's final game, a quarter-final loss to Fiji, before flying home to be with his family.
"I feel like it was unfinished business, coming into this game. But the boys certainly finished it off. I'm proud of the boys, the coaching staff, [we] made our families proud," Manumaleali'i said after the game.
"I definitely dedicate this game to my mum. When I was over in the World Cup she passed away. It was the lowest of lows. I guess this game means everything to me."
Manumaleali'i scored tries in the 13th, 38th, and 44th minute of the game, in what turned into a match-winning performance. But, with his mother's birthday on Sunday, the New Zealand-raised Samoan said the Pacific Test was one of the toughest nights of his life.
"It was very emotional for me. Losing your mother's not the best thing," he said. "But you've just got to get on with life and I'm having a son in approximately two weeks. Hopefully that brings peace into my heart and everything.
"I haven't spoken to my dad yet [about the game] but I spoke to my sister... It's actually my mother's birthday [on Sunday] so they're all sitting down for a barbecue in Christchurch."
Coach Matt Parish said he was pleased for Manumaleali'i, who he believed could've made a difference in that quarter-final loss to Fiji.
"At the end of the day Fiji played pretty well when they beat us. I was pretty disappointed in our performance," he said.
"But I don't want to take anything away from Fiji – they played really well. We lost Penani early in the first half and then we lost BJ [Leilua] before half-time.
"But tonight the breaks went our way. They lost [halfback] Aaron Groom who's a pretty important player for them and things went our way. But you know, you can only beat what they put on the park in front of you and to keep them to nil in the second half is a great effort, particularly in a Test match."
Parish paid tribute to his playmaker, who is set to be one of his key men in November.
"I'm really pleased for him. [He] lost his mum, then he dislocated his elbow, had to have surgery. He's struggling a bit in reserve grade with his club at the moment, playing NSW Cup, for him to come out tonight and play well was good," he said.
Manumaleali'i made his NRL debut in Round 2 this year, replacing an injured Todd Carney, but has since been biding his time in the NSW Cup. Off-contract at the end of the year, he hoped Saturday night's performance caught the eye of NRL clubs in need of some depth in the halves.
"Today's performance will help me out a lot. I'm off contract this year with Cronulla. Hopefully my manager sits down and continues to work out where I'm going," he said.