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Broncos prop Jo Ofahengaue will have his work cut out in the middle of the field against the big Warriors forward pack in Sunday’s Holden Cup Grand Final.

The genius of Wayne Bennett lies in how the message is delivered.

Players rarely know whether he is joking or being deadly serious and when they are told to face some hard truths whether the coach sees little in your talents or he is testing your hunger to succeed.

When Bennett bluntly told Joe Ofahengaue that he didn't figure in his plans for the 2015 season early in pre-season training, the then 19-year-old took it hard, returning to the family home in Ipswich to tell his parents an NRL debut would be another 12 months away.

His under-20s coach Craig Hodges and senior members of the NRL squad marvelled at how such a big body could get through so much punishing work but to Bennett he was a long-term prospect to be shaped in the mould he would need for years to come.


But there are some things that even the master coach can't control and when James Gavet and Mitchell Dodds went down injured after the first game of the season Ofahengaue was thrust into a scrappy slug-fest at Shark Park.

He came through that test with a broken nose in 20 minutes of game-time, but perhaps it was his response to Bennett's earlier summation that showed the coach the kid had the temperament to handle the top grade.

"When I went home that day I was saying to Dad that I didn't think I would play this year and my dad was saying, 'You can't say that. You don't know what's going to happen throughout the year,'" said Ofahengaue, who played school footy with Anthony Milford at St Peter Claver College in Ipswich.

"From then I took it as a challenge, that if I wasn't going to play this year then I was going to do my best to try and get his interest.

"I got a bit lucky through injuries and stuff to debut and stay in the squad and I'm just thankful and grateful for all my opportunities he's handed me this year.

"I wasn't really down about it. He's got a big roster, he had James Gavet coming over and there was no room for me but if something happened then I'd probably get a shot.

"That's something I really trained for, just waiting for my next shot and Round 2 came around, James got injured and Mitchell Dodds got injured so I got called up then."

Ofahengaue – the nephew of Wallaby legend Willie Ofahengaue – has been a constant in the Broncos team for the past eight weeks but has had to bide his time at various stages throughout the season.

After three games in the top grade from Rounds 2-4 his only other appearances until Round 21 were in Round 9 and Round 11 as he bounced between the Holden Cup and Intrust Super Cup competitions.

Only once this year has he played more than 40 minutes in an NRL game (44 against the Knights in Round 11 where he made a season-high 31 tackles) and his best attacking output came against the Rabbitohs in Round 25 when he ran for 110 metres in 24 minutes on the field.

Having only celebrated his 20th birthday two weeks ago, he and fellow rookie Kodi Nikorima are now 80 minutes away from a premiership in their first season in the NRL and come armed with tough lessons learnt on grand final day last year.

The pair played in Brisbane's Holden Cup grand final team last year against the Warriors where they trailed 34-6 before storming home to get back to 34-32, a missed conversion from Jayden Nikorima all that prevented the game from going into extra-time.

"Don't start slow," Ofahengaue said when asked what he could take out of last year's loss.

"We started off real slow, they put 30 points on us so we've just got to start with the same energy that we had against the Roosters [in the Preliminary Final]. That's the mentality we've got to bring into the game.

"It's just crazy [to be playing in an NRL Grand Final]. Me and Kodi were still pinching ourselves after the [Roosters] game.

"We kind of winked at each other and said, 'That's two grand finals in two years' so we're both thankful and grateful for the opportunity we have now.

"I'm still so excited but I'm trying to stay calm. The best thing for us to do is to enjoy the week and stay calm in camp in Sydney."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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