Faitala-Mariner's unlikely childhood idol

Faitala-Mariner's unlikely childhood idol

The names a New Zealand player rattles off when talking about their idols are usually pretty similar.

You've got former Kiwi legends Stacey Jones, Ali Lauiti'iti, Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams at the top of the tree.

Ruben Wiki and current Warriors stalwart Simon Mannering also usually earn a mention.

But Bulldogs back-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner had other ideas growing up as a teenager.

"Mark Gasnier!" he beams.

"In high school we used to have our teams and everyone was typical Warriors or Broncos and I thought I'll go with the Dragons to be different.

"They went good. I reckon if Mark Gasnier was still playing now I would be like, 'oh shit'. I've never met him but just seeing him around, gosh … don't tell him."

Faitala-Mariner's admiration for Gasnier is legit.

He's used part of Gasnier's game in attack to develop an offload the Bulldogs faithful are finally seeing come to fruition in 2018.

Under Des Hasler, he admits, was a different story.

The 24-year-old managed 16 offloads for the 2017 season in limited minutes, but keeping the ball alive wasn't a part of Hasler's game plan.

He's now well on track to eclipse those numbers under Dean Pay's approach to the season and is out to permanently cement a spot on the left edge.

"First day of pre-season Dean called me into his office and told me he needed me to play 80," Faitala-Mariner told NRL.com.

"When Dean got the job I was in New Zealand and I was nervous. You don't know if a coach likes the way you play. But hearing him say words like I need you and the way you offload, that's what we need in this team.

"I was surprised, to be honest. I thought I was going to be off the bench again. It gave me confidence that a coach believed in me and my potential. I had a big off-season as a result.

"It was the first time I looked forward to a pre-season. I feel fitter than I was last year and can get myself into the game more. I was only averaging 30 minutes last year and in those I tried too much."

If it were up to Faitala-Mariner at an early age, the Samoan representative would be representing the All Blacks.

Growing up playing rugby union was the norm until his father had a say.

"This builder was a manager from my junior club Otahuhu. I was helping him build our house extension and he told Dad he would give us a discount if I came and played for his team," Faitala-Mariner said.

"So Dad was like, son, go and play for that team so we can get a discount. It started from there. It was the opportunity to help my family out.

"I was like sweet, I'll play, but it wasn't much of a discount. I don't even watch rugby now."

First day of pre-season Dean called me into his office and told me he needed me to play 80.

Raymond Faitala-Mariner

After joining the Bulldogs in 2016, he finally feels settled at the club, but he is not satisfied. Relocating to Sydney was on the cards for years, but it wasn't until a swap deal involving former Bulldogs forward Shaun Lane came through mid-season and he left with three days notice.

"It was more a fresh start for me, there was stuff happening back home and I couldn't focus on my footy," he said.

"My own headspace, nothing was going my way and I needed to change. My footy wasn't really going good at the Warriors.

"It has been frustrating the past few years but it's good now. If you don't enjoy what you're doing you won't do well."