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How Warriors helped set Vaivai straight

Such was Sami Vaivai's desire to see his son Paterika make a career by playing rugby league that he kept a battle with liver cancer that he would lose in a matter of months secret from his son.

In 2009 Vaivai was in the first year of a two-year deal with the Melbourne Storm who had sent him to Brisbane to complete his schooling at Wavell State High School.

Born in Samoa and just 17 years of age Vaivai was already feeling the deep pangs of longing for home and when he returned to south Auckland for school holidays he knew there was something his father hadn't told him.

Diagnosed only months earlier, Sami passed away just two months after Vaivai had come home to visit, his decision not to return to Brisbane vindicated by the final days that he got to spend with his father.

"When I came home I figured out there was something wrong," Vaivai told "He was a bit skinny and looked a bit sick in the face so I kind of figured it out and decided to stay home and spend the rest of my time there.

"He had liver cancer. I was only going home for the two-week school holiday and then I found out that he'd had it for four months or so but he didn't want me to find out so I could focus on footy.

"Two months after I went home my father passed away so it was a good move for me to go back home and just spend some time with him before he passed away."

‌His desire to remain closer to family put Vaivai in the path of the Warriors who signed him to a two-year under-20s contract.

In two years at the club he didn't feature in a single under-20s game and was cut at the end of the 2011 season but rather than holding any grudges Vaivai is thankful for the opportunity the club gave him and also their decision to let him go.

The 25-year-old has played six of the past seven games for the Titans and says there is no bitterness on his part as he prepares to face the club that cut him loose for the first time in his young NRL career.

"I made it hard on myself," Vaivai conceded. "I didn't really make some good choices and I was surrounding myself with some of the same friends I grew up with.

"I was just focusing on my father and my family at that moment. Footy was just in the back of my mind.

"I was lucky enough to have an older brother to step into that father figure role. We had my sisters and my mother to take care of so footy wasn't the main part of my life.

"I just wanted my family to be OK and that was it.

"I didn't really give myself the best opportunity then. It just took me a while to crack the 20s until my last year in 2012 [with Newcastle].

"It taught me a lot of life lessons, that talent can only get you so far and the work ethic is the main thing that gets you to the next level.

"It was a rough lesson how they let me go but I'm happy because it taught me how to mature a bit.

"I know a lot of the boys that play there so it will be good to play against them and have a run against them."

Always in his thoughts is his father, a man who was a police officer in Samoa before becoming a maths teacher in New Zealand and who continues to inspire Vaivai to make the most of the opportunities now in front of him.

"There was always times when I didn't make right choices but he was always there to give me that tough love and I always appreciated it," said Vaivai.

"I never took it the wrong way. I always knew where it was coming from.

"He was such a good father and role model for us, me and my older brother, in how to be a man.

"I miss him every day but I know he's watching down.

"I learnt a lot of things off him so it's good that I can still carry on his last name.

"The Vaivai name is now on the TV so all my family is happy with that."


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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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