Kaufusi thunderstruck by shock selection
All Felise Kaufusi wanted to do this year was force his way into the Melbourne Storm squad and play regular first-grade football.
Now he can say he was one injury away from representing the Maroons after being named 18th man for Game Three of the 2016 Holden State of Origin series.
The young forward admits he and his partner were in shock after receiving a call from Storm Football Manager Frank Ponissi letting him know that he'd been named in the Queensland squad for the game at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Having played for the Queensland Residents two years ago, Kaufusi never thought he'd be back on the representative scene so soon.
"[I was] definitely not expecting to be picked," he told NRL.com after the game in Sydney.
"I was a bit overwhelmed to get that call-up actually.
"I was really excited when I found out, but mainly I was honoured because growing up this had always been a dream of mine. Even though I didn't play tonight, being this close was an awesome feeling."
Kaufusi said his number one goal in 2016 was to be mainstay in the Storm's 17, but always knew he could control his own destiny if he played to the best of his ability.
After playing 17 matches in 2015 – 15 of those off the bench – the 24-year-old has featured in 15 of Melbourne's 16 matches this year, starting three of them in the back row.
A consistent performer throughout the year, Kaufusi produced the game of his life in Round 16 against the Wests Tigers, scoring a first-half double to inspire his side to a 29-20 win.
It's that sort of form that turned him from a young footballer aiming to get a shot in first grade, to being on the cusp of representing his state at the highest level.
"I was just hoping to make the 17 for the Storm and play consistent footy for the club," he said.
"It always helps when you're playing good footy, and you get rewarded off the back of it. I was lucky enough to get a double in the game against the Tigers and I'm sure that helped me get picked."
Kaufusi had no shortage of people to call for advice leading into his first camp with the Maroons, with his older brother Antonio able to offer support after earning a maiden cap for the Maroons in 2007.
The Tongan representative also sought words of wisdom from his Storm and Maroons teammates Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith leading into the biggest week of his life.
"They just told me to make the most of it and really learn from the experience of being in camp," the Storm forward said.
"They said I needed to be ready and up to speed just in case someone went down and I needed to come into the 17.
"I rang him (Antonio) up straightaway and he was very excited for me. He told me to enjoy the week and to make sure that I had a good time."
Now that he's had his first taste as a Maroons squad member, Kaufusi wants to take everything he's learnt back to club land where he hopes to take his game to even greater heights.
"Being selected as 18th man has made me a more confident player," he said.
"It's something I rate highly in my footy career and now the focus is taking that confidence back to the Storm.
"I stood back this week and appreciated how everyone went about their business. I think I learnt a lot off a couple of the more senior guys and hopefully I can take that back to my footy with the Storm."