Family blessing paves Kata's way
Rookie Kiwis centre Solomone Kata is enjoying a strong debut campaign with the national side, but had it not been for the approval of his family he wouldn't have even made himself available for New Zealand this year.
After representing Mate Ma'a Tonga in 2015, Kata chose to pursue the black and white jersey this season, but not before a couple of important chats with his family who still live in Tonga.
"It was a pretty hard decision to make to go with New Zealand, I grew up in Tonga and I come from there," Kata told NRL.com as the Kiwis prepare to face Scotland in Workington this Saturday morning (AEDT).
"But at the same time my main focus, and the focus of my family, was for one of us brothers to play as high as we could in rugby or league, and that is playing for the Kiwis.
"I asked mum and dad for their opinion and they said it was my choice.
"They told me to make my decision about whether I played for Tonga or the Kiwis, but if they had said they really wanted me to play for Tonga then that is what I would have done."
Still only 21, and playing just his fourth full season of rugby league, Kata has been impressive so far at the Four Nations, standing out in a 17-16 win over England and a 14-8 loss to Australia.
Out on the left edge the powerful New Zealand Warriors centre has been a steadying influence in defence, while he scored his first try for the Kiwis last week against Australia with a spirited burrowing effort.
After arriving in New Zealand from Tonga on a rugby union scholarship in 2011, Kata admitted it had been a surreal journey to date.
"I can't believe where I am now to be honest," Kata said.
"Looking back at where I came from, where my family still is, I never thought I was going to get this far, especially with my height and my size.
"To be here with superstars and be playing for the Kiwis is a dream come true.
"It has been pretty fun learning the haka with the Kiwis, understanding the words and all the actions.
"It makes it more special and now I know a bit more about the Kiwi story and the culture, which is good.
"I feel the same as everyone else when the New Zealand anthem plays now, I don't look around and think 'oh, I am Tongan'.
"I feel the nation and it is special."
Despite the constant presence of motion sickness ensuring the long bus trips around the UK have been challenging for Kata, his integration into the Kiwi camp and culture has been seamless according to fellow first-time tourist Jordan Rapana.
"Solomone is a funny guy, he is pretty fresh and you can't understand him half the time, but this is a real good bunch of blokes and they make you all feel like brothers," Rapana said.
"Our left-side defence has been so good on tour and a lot of that comes from Sol.
"He really is a quality centre and defender, and from training alongside him I have seen that for myself."