Wayne Bennett lured Pangai north
Touted as the next big thing in the nation's capital, Tevita Pangai Junior made the decision to move north to the Brisbane Broncos just before the 2016 season started so he could link up with master coach Wayne Bennett.
Originally in the Newcastle system, Pangai missed out on the opportunity to be coached by Bennett – the Knights coach at the time – because of family reasons, and Pangai said that was the biggest motivating factor behind his move.
Having left Newcastle in 2013, the hulking 20-year-old spent the next two seasons terrorising opposition teams while playing for the Canberra Raiders in the NYC.
He scored 10 tries from 17 appearances last year, produced a mind-blowing 85 offloads and averaged over 150 metres in an utterly dominant showing of pure strength before deciding the time was right to start his next rugby league adventure.
"I had to move to Canberra for family issues when I was 16 so I didn't get a chance to play under Wayne when I was at Newcastle so I was keen to link up with him this time," Pangai told NRL.com.
"It was a tough choice because my family had settled in well in Canberra. But I had to make the best decision for myself and that was going to Brisbane. I just wanted to have that chance to play with Wayne.
"He probably doesn't have that many more years left in coaching so hopefully I can learn from him before he moves onto the next chapter of his life."
Currently in camp for his third Junior Kangaroos Test in as many years, Pangai said it was the influence of former national under-20s teammate Joe Ofahengaue back in 2014 that helped convince him to join the Broncos.
Pangai has played six NYC games this year, twice breaking the 200-metre barrier, and has also had a taste of senior football in the Intrust Super Cup.
It's a decision he does not regret, telling NRL.com that he was hopeful for a first-grade debut in the coming weeks with a number of teammates set to be on State of Origin duty.
"He (Ofahengaue) sort of pushed me to come up to Brisbane. I met him in my first camp and I'm still great mates with him," Pangai continued.
"I've been full time with the first grade team and it's really competitive there. I need to get up to speed with my skills in the next few weeks so hopefully I can put my hand up once the Origin period comes."
Pangai said he looked up to current Test stars Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair, and identified the latter as the man he was learning from the most.
"The way he trains is the biggest thing for me," he said when asked about Blair's influence.
"He doesn’t get the recognition from the public that he deserves because he does all the little things off the ball that normal people won't see. That's something his teammates see and people in our club respect him for."
The Broncos emerging star is in camp for his third Junior Kangaroos cap, but this will be his first in the front row after playing lock and back-row the past two years.
Pangai said he was looking forward to playing with the Australian halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Lachlan Croker this weekend; Saturday's match doubling as a reunion of sorts with the Raiders halfback.
"They've both been going really well this year," the 2015 Holden Cup Team of the Year member said.
"I haven't played with Lachlan for a while so I'm looking forward to playing with him again. They've both got strong kicking games and like to take on the line so it'll be good to play with them.
"We both came up through the grades playing SG Ball together. We played under-20s together and we played NSW under-18s together as well. We're good mates and we still keep in contact even though I'm in Brisbane now."
With a win and a loss next to his name, Pangai wants to end his time with the Junior Kangaroos on a high on Saturday afternoon, but knows it will be no easy feat against a Kiwis side that always lifts for the occasion.
"You can never get used to playing for Australia. It's always a challenge to make this squad but it's an awesome feeling coming into camp with the boys," the most experienced Junior Roo said.
"They've got a lot of big boys in that team. They're always very physical. I don't know what it is; they must bond really well in that New Zealand camp because they always come out in the games and play for each other."