Playing every minute of every game so far this season, Felise Kaufusi has earned every second and a thoroughly-deserved new two-year deal at the Melbourne Storm before another brilliant 80-minute performance in his side’s thrilling 20-14 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday night.
After receiving fluctuating amounts of on-field time in 2016, the 24-year-old Tongan international ripped in for a bumper pre-season of which he is reaping the rewards and respect of his teammates and hard-lined coach Craig Bellamy.
The second-rower’s hard work culminates in his signing for next season with the option for an additional year in 2019.
Kaufusi played 21 games for the Storm last season before he was dropped from the side during the finals series, finishing his year with feeder club Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Bellamy is surprised but thrilled with the quick progress Kaufusi made in a short amount of time.
"If someone said this time last year he’d be playing 80 minutes next year, I wouldn’t believe it at all. But he is and he’s playing a strong 80 minutes," Bellamy said after the Storm climbed to the top of the ladder.
"I’m really pleased with what 'Fuce' is doing for us."
Kaufusi joins teammates Christian Welch, Dale Finucane, Joe Stimson and Jesse and Kenny Bromwich as the latest big men to re-sign with the club as the Storm begin their succession plan following the end of the historic 'big three' era.
It’s not just the Storm who recognise his rising status with Kaufusi earning selection in Queensland’s Emerging Origin squad as well as the honour of being 18th man in Game III of the 2016 Holden State of Origin series.
With his current form, it wont be long before he receives an inevitable debut for the Maroons.
Without missing a single second in eight matches, Kaufusi (averaging over 37 tackles per game) made a game-high 46 tackles against the Warriors and added another four-pointer after his two-try effort against Manly the previous round.
Gaining the belief of the strong-cultured Storm is no easy task but Kaufusi has proven he can deliver.
"Being able for them to trust me doing the job out there for 80 minutes is huge considering I’ve only been averaging 20 minutes for the last couple of years, if that," Kaufusi said.
"It’s hard enough playing 20 minutes but to play 80 minutes, it’s different. There are parts of the game you’re buggered but you’ve got to keep pushing through it."
In his first time as starter in the annual Anzac Day clash, Kaufusi rose to the occasion for a stellar performance.
"Hearing the last post gives me a bit of goosebumps," Kaufusi reflected.
"I couldn’t imagine it (World War I). I don’t think I would’ve been man enough to ran out in front of gun fire and everything… it’s hard to think of what they went through plus how young some of them were."
Claiming "I'd love to play for my heritage and make my parents proud," Kaufusi is ready to return to the international scene for Tonga in their upcoming clash against Samoa if selected.