Eels back-rower Kenny Edwards is delighted his long-time friend Leivaha Pulu is finally enjoying NRL success – but he still hopes his old high school mate has a quiet game when the pair face off against each other for the first time at NRL level on Sunday.
Earlier this year, Pulu opened up to NRL.com about how close he came to giving away footy after a career that saw him come through the Wests Tigers NYC system and spend time training with the Roosters NRL squad while playing with Wyong in the then-NSW Cup competition as he tried to support a young family.
After being persuaded by his partner not to give up, the rewards came for Pulu with a two-year deal at the Titans which saw him debut in Round 1 this year and play every game since.
Speaking ahead of his team's clash against Pulu's Titans, Eels forward Kenny Edwards had nothing but praise for his fellow Keebra Park High product.
"I went to school with Vaha and to see where he's at now compared to this time last year and even the year before when he was thinking about giving up footy is massive; I'm so proud of him and where he's at at the moment," Edwards said.
"When he told me he got a pre-season with the Titans I was texting him and making sure he was putting his best foot forward. To see him doing as well as he is now is awesome. It's a testament to himself and how hard he's worked off the field, he's got a young family that he can afford to look after now. I'm proud of him.
"I hope doesn't play that well this weekend though!" Edwards added with a laugh.
Edwards said Pulu was a great schoolboy player when both were back at Keebra Park but struggled being away from his family after moving down to Sydney to take up an opportunity with the Tigers under-20s squad.
"The Tigers sort of let him go and he didn't play for a couple of years. Last year he had a really good year in the NSW Cup up at Wyong. I followed him a bit in NSW Cup and he was killing it," Edwards said.
"I couldn't believe the Roosters didn't give him a go because he was training with them part time but when he told me he got a gig with the Titans I was happy for him and glad all his hard work paid off."
The pair featured in an annual Maoris tournament in Sydney's west every year and it was during one of those catch ups Edwards discovered Pulu was contemplating giving up footy to focus on work and supporting his young family before his partner Lina talked him around.
"If it wasn't for her maybe he might have given up and he wouldn't be able to do the same as me and fulfil a childhood dream [of playing in the NRL]. I dreamed about it all my life and I'm sure he did too. I'm just happy and proud of him," Edwards said.
Both players are 26 and despite debuting three years earlier than Pulu, Edwards himself has only racked up 36 games to date. A combination of disciplinary issues (which saw him moved on from Manly and the Dragons at junior level and delayed his debut) and serious injuries (he missed the entire 2015 season due to a ruptured ACL) means Edwards has a similar perspective to Pulu in terms of how valuable a shot in the NRL can be.
"Yeah we're lucky enough to be playing the sport we love and the sport we grew up watching," Edwards said of his own troubled path to NRL success.
"I take nothing for granted now and I'm sure he's the same… we're at the age now where we don't take things for granted."