Support for Molo ahead of Test debut
Broncos teammates become international opponents fighting for a World Cup berth on Saturday night but when Joe Ofahengaue performs the Sipi Tau for Tonga for the first time he will be happy to look up and see Francis Molo staring at him from the other side of the halfway line.
Molo makes his international debut for the Cook Islands at Campbelltown on Saturday in what will be just his second game of rugby league since the tackle which fatally injured Sunshine Coast Falcon James Ackerman in June.
Too distraught to consider playing footy in the immediate aftermath, Molo was forced to serve an eight-week suspension by the Queensland Rugby League for a shoulder charge before returning for Norths Devils for the final round of the Intrust Super Cup season.
He continued to train with the Broncos throughout the NRL Finals Series and is one of only four players in the Cook Islands team with NRL experience, the last of his six career games to date coming in Round 13 against Manly.
Where once he helped guide a young Ofahengaue through the early days of his development in the under-20s competition, Molo has needed to lean on his mates for support this season in an unimaginable way and Ofahengaue for one is thrilled to see him emerge from such a difficult period.
"Francis has been real good around the club. He never misses a session and all the boys try to get around him as much as we can," Ofahengaue told NRL.com.
"We all knew he was doing it tough for the first couple of months but he does all his counselling and stuff and it's good to see how good he has come out and I'm looking forward to playing against him.
"I met Francis when I was probably 16. To see what he's gone through this year, it's a big step for him to play this game and I'm really proud of him with how he coped this year."
Molo played five games for the Broncos this season prior to the tragic accident on June 20 and is the cousin of star Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford.
Twelve months his senior, Molo played a handful of schoolboy games against Ofahengaue who remembered the positive influence Molo had when he graduated to the under-20s system at Brisbane in 2013.
"He taught me a few things when I came up [to the under-20s] and I'm excited to play against him this week," Ofahengaue said.
"He'd talk to me about the mental side of the game.
"Coming into games I was pretty nervous and thinking about the game too much and he would just come and sit by me and tell me to relax and let the game unfold.
"It helped me in a big way the next year so it should be a good one against big 'Frankie'."
Tickets for the match are $10 for adults, $5 for concessions and under-16s, and $20 for families (two adults and three children) and will be available at the gate.
The World Cup qualifier between Tonga and the Cook Islands will be live streamed on NRL.com from 7.30pm on Saturday night AEDT.