Pulu swaps 'lollipop' for NRL shot
This is not the first time that Leivaha Pulu has moved to the Gold Coast looking for a second chance.
Told he would never amount to anything by teachers in his home town of Avondale in New Zealand, Pulu joined famed rugby league nursery Keebra Park High as a 130-kilogram 16-year-old back-rower looking to make a life through rugby league.
Now, some eight years later, he is back on the Gold Coast with a full-time NRL contract with the Titans and the realisation of his dream to play in the NRL now tantalisingly within reach.
A member of the Wests Tigers under-20s team in 2009 and 2010, Pulu has played with Windsor, the French club Lezignan in the off-season of 2013 and for the past three seasons with the Wyong Roos in the VB NSW Cup where he performed so strongly that he was invited to spend six weeks training with the Sydney Roosters' NRL squad in late 2014.
During much of his time playing for Wyong Pulu would leave his home on the Central Coast at 3am to work as a traffic controller in Sydney before returning in the evening to go to training, arriving home to his family well after his two children had gone to bed.
Along with his long-time partner Lina, daughter Carayanidis, 6, and son Amon James, 3, are the motivation for Pulu to push on with his rugby league career and like his parents did for him, provide them with a better life.
"I wanted to show them that if you put your mind to it anything is possible and just to be a good example for them," Pulu told NRL.com.
"I grew up always looking up to my mum and dad and that. My dad came straight from Tonga because he wanted us to have a good life and he worked hard.
"He worked two jobs, mum worked two jobs and he was lucky enough that he got to bring his family over from Tonga and gave them a good life and now I want to do that for my family as well. Give them a better life than I had.
"Life's too short man and you've got to try and get the best out of it. That's why I'm here today giving it my all."
The only familiar face when Pulu arrived on the Gold Coast was former Keebra Park and Wests Tigers team-mate Agnatius Paasi.
Paasi himself arrived at the Titans 12 months ago with no guarantees of an NRL spot but played 18 games in 2015 and earned himself a two-year contract extension through until the end of the 2017 season.
With a year under his belt, the softly-spoken Paasi said he is now trying to help Pulu make the most of the opportunity that has been afforded him.
"We're kind of similar so with my one year of experience playing in the NRL I'm just trying to offload that experience to 'Vaha' and try to help him out," Paasi said.
"I'm just trying to share with him the game plan and what is needed from the coaches and what to do out on the field when it's game time."
Now 25 years of age, Pulu says he is much more settled than when he first came to the Gold Coast at the end of 2007 and is still using the lack of faith from those who doubted him to push him closer towards an NRL appearance.
"I was told that I wasn't going to make college, that I wasn't going to finish school and just do what everyone else was doing back home, just live off the benefit and that. So that gives me the drive to do better," Pulu said.
"It was tough. I had to leave home at 16 and I was lucky enough that my partner was supporting me in a way. There were times when I'd call up home and say that I couldn't do it and that I was coming home and I almost chucked in the towel but she said to stick it out.
"It was tough at Tigers because I had a child when I was 18. I found out my missus was pregnant and I had to decide whether to work or to play footy.
"My head wasn't really into it and being young and getting fast money it was just the only thing I could do for the meanwhile until I started to grow older and be more mature. I knew the sacrifices I had to make if I really wanted to go somewhere.
"It was not until I came back [from France] and I really decided to have a real good crack.
"When I went over to France I saw life over there and it opened up my eyes just to how lucky we've got it over here with the footy facilities and they really look after us over here."