Akauola's re-signing makes huge impact
When Sitaleki Akauola re-signed with the Wests Tigers a month ago, it barely registered a quiver on the rugby league Richter scale.
And nor should it have, given the club's spiral into irrelevancy the closer September approached.
But Akauola's new two-year deal certainly sent shockwaves back in his home town of Manuwera, New Zealand, where many of his 14 siblings remain.
The Tigers' season comes to an end when they host the embattled Sharks on Saturday night, but for their fill-in winger, his career has just begun.
After hitting a stonewall in the Warriors junior system three years ago, Akauola gave up his pursuit of a rugby league career to join his eldest brother across the Tasman in an attempt to send some money home.
"It's probably the toughest thing I've ever had to do, sacrificing rugby league and leaving them to come here," he tells NRL.com.
"We had our last game for the season in 2011 and then the next day I flew out. I gave up footy to come here and work with my older brother, loading and unloading pallets at TNT.
"It was the first time I'd ever left home. Man, that was hard."
But three weeks in, the Manuwera Marlins junior got a call that gave him a second chance at his NRL dream.
"The Auckland Rugby League from New Zealand got me a trial with the Tigers out in Campbelltown. Two weeks after that I had a trial with NYC," he says.
"I got picked up for both, but the Tigers were closer, because I was staying at Hurstville at the time."
Akauola claimed a NYC premiership alongside rising talents David Nofoaluma, Marika Koroibete and Sauaso Sue, but not after having overcome some more adversity.
Only the influence of his second eldest brother, Hala, kept him from giving up the game a second time. Hala played a number of games for South Sydney's under-20s teams but wasted away his shot at the big time.
"I wanted to quit that year. I was homesick," Sitaleki says. "But I learnt a lot from my brother. He was one of the rising players in the NYC, but a few things got to him. He'd been there and done it, and he didn't want me going down the same path. He's been a big influence on me."
It didn't take long for the softly-spoken forward to eventually make his NRL debut, running out against the Storm in Round 5 the following season.
And while it was to be his only game of the year, it was an experience that, like a number of his prodigious young team-mates, held him in good stead for a strong second year in the NRL.
Ahead of this Saturday's final game against the Sharks, Akauola has played nine games in first grade that has included a couple of difficult stints on the wing.
"It's heaps different to the forwards, more decision-wise. As for the forwards, it's up-front. That's the hard thing about being on the wing – you have to make a lot more decisions," he says.
"The under-20s was quick, and then the State Cup was physical. In the NRL, it's both. But the coach is the one that tells you what to do, and who wouldn't do it?"
Especially when it beats long days packing and unpacking those heavy pallets.
"At least on the wing, it only lasts 80 minutes. That was the whole day," he says. "But you know what, at the end of the day I'm still sending money home now. I'm trying to do something for them. They're really proud of me back home, and nothing makes me happier than seeing my parents happy."