Kata eyes end-of-year Kiwi spot
At the start of 2015 Solomone Kata didn't even expect to be playing first grade by the time Round 13 rolled around.
But after a terrific start to his rookie NRL season, he's now after a spot in the world's No.1 international side for their end-of-year tour of England.
After starring with a hat-trick performance for the Junior Warriors in last year's Holden Cup Grand Final, Kata started Round 1 in the centres for the club's Telstra Premiership side and never looked back.
Strong form – coupled with injuries to regular members of the Warriors backline – has seen the 20-year-old play every match so far this year, combining to form a lethal left edge with veteran back-rower Ryan Hoffman and fellow Tongan Manu Vatuvei.
Now he's hungry for higher honours, and while his English is patchy his dream is clear.
"That's my big goal, to play for New Zealand, to try and play for the Kiwis," Kata explains to NRL.com.
"For me I have always looked forward to playing for New Zealand.
"That's what they [my parents] want, they are happy for me to play for New Zealand."
A Kiwi Test call-up would cap off a meteoric rise for Kata, who has only been playing league since 2013.
Already this season he has won selection for his native Tonga, joining Warriors teammates Konrad Hurrell and Tuimoala Lolohea in a losing effort against Samoa.
His form at club level has been hard to ignore too, averaging 114 running metres, with nine tries and nines line breaks in 11 games.
Ahead of marking up on Kangaroos centre Dylan Walker against the Rabbitohs in Perth on Saturday Kata admitted he still doesn't feel at home in the NRL.
"I am pretty nervous every game still, I still don't feel comfortable and am working to hold my position," said Kata, who has 11 siblings still living back in Tonga.
"I have played more games than I thought I would. I didn't know I was going to get this many games in my first year of NRL.
"I have to work hard, there are heaps of other good players here [at the Warriors] who deserve my position, so I have to make sure I keep my spot.
"This week I have to focus on my defence. He [Walker] is a fast kind of guy, got good skills and is strong.
"I haven't seen him in real life yet, only on TV… but there's nothing easy in the NRL."
Given his lack of rugby league experience to date Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said Kata's rise had been impressive, and a little unexpected.
"Solomone has gone great, certainly at the start of the year I don't know if he was in my starting 17 when I put the team down in November," McFadden said.
"But he has made huge improvements and has been there all season, he has been a real solid performer for us every week which is a real credit to him considering how young he is.
"His ability to turn up and compete every week, it's not easy for a young kid to get up in the NRL every week.
"But he is obviously a very confident young man and while he's doing the job he holds his spot. He has been a real find for us."
Meanwhile Kata's form this year has also seen him become one of 2015's top NRL Fantasy cash cows, where he is averaging 37.9 points per round and has had a value increase of $174,000.