Warriors players (left to right): Lisa Edwards, Kahurangi Peters, Luisa Gago, Langi Veainu, Lorina Papali’i, Shontelle Woodman, Krystal Rota, Hilda Mariu at Mt Smart Stadium.

Warriors second-rower Isaiah Papali’i insists he takes more tips from his mother Lorina than he gives and knows for certain she has achieved a top-flight footy feat he can’t even dream of emulating.

Mother and son were playing the mutual appreciation game on Wednesday after 41-year-old Lorina joined her son in Warriors’ colours as part of the trailblazing 22-strong squad set to represent the Auckland-based club in the inaugural NRL Holden Women’s Premiership next month.

The former Kiwis Ferns player has come out of an eight-year retirement for the four-team competition comprising the Warriors, St George Illawarra, Brisbane and South Sydney which will be run parallel with next month’s NRL playoffs.

Having retired in 2010 after a 16-year playing career that included representing New Zealand from 1994 to 2005 and notching two league World Cups for the Kiwi Ferns and two rugby union World Cups for Samoa, Lorina had initially targeted being the Warriors women’s team trainer.

But the jewellery company office supervisor and part-time cross-fit instructor couldn’t let the unexpected opportunity to create NRL history slide. And just as Lorina is proud of her 19-year-old son establishing himself as a first choice second rower for the Warriors in just his second NRL season, Isaiah is justifiably thrilled for his mum. 

Warriors general manager of football Brian Smith and women’s head coach Luisa Avaiki.
Warriors general manager of football Brian Smith and women’s head coach Luisa Avaiki. ©www.photosport.nz

"It’s a dream come true now that it's all come out and she's actually in that squad…I’m really happy for her with the achievement [and what she's] overcome to [achieve it],” Isaiah told NRL.com.

"At the start I was like, 'Oh wow', it's been a while [eight years on the sidelines], so hearing she was coming back, it was a surprise for me. But she has that love for the sport and the passion...it's something she’s always dreamed of.

Have you passed on any tips to mum, now you’re an NRL star?

"I grew up watching her throughout my younger days and she was my trainer back when I was young. So she's more the person who gives me tips here and there. I try to give her some tips but she's pretty much done it all so she's quite experienced, so I look at her more for advice."

How about you playing top-flight footy at 41?  

"Nah, I can’t see that to be honest," Isaiah said with a chuckle. "That's a big thing to overcome but for my mum she's had that work ethic for a number of years now so I'm not surprised she's able to play footy at that age.

"She's definitely had to get back in footy nick. She's kept fit over the years she's been away but just having that footy fitness is a bit different to cross-fit so she's been out late at night in regards to training, and out on the paddock [team training]…yeah, she's definitely put in the work and got back to footy fitness."

Isaiah is set to make his 20th appearance in the Warriors critical round 21 match against St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Saturday. 

Warriors back rower Isaiah Papali'i.
Warriors back rower Isaiah Papali'i. ©NRL Photos

He could yet play on Mt Smart Stadium just after his mother on Friday week. The Warriors women have a warm-up clash against Auckland scheduled at 6.05pm (NZT) ahead of the Warriors round 22 match with the Newcastle Knights at (8pm).

Appropriately it's the Warriors 'Women in League' game day at Mt Smart Stadium.

"I was talking to some of the boys about it and that's pretty surreal being able to do that. I never thought that would be something that would come up, but looking forward to it, hopefully she gets picked."

Lorina said her son's rise to stardom had been a motivating factor in putting her body on the line again for the Akarana Falcons and now the Warriors.

"When I think I am having a hard time I think of him," Lorina, a prop or second-rower herself, told 1 News.

“I think 'Keep going, make him proud' – so he is actually one of my biggest drivers."

Mother and son still live together, which mean they literally eat and sleep rugby league. 

"He's very supportive. He's proud and that's what gives me the energy to get up each day, to make him proud. I think he [Isaiah] is as proud of me as I am of him, so it's mutual." 

Most definitely so, as Isaiah eluded too when he recalled his formative years when Lorina was playing for the Kiwi Ferns, Samoa, and even tag for New Zealand.

"I just remember standing on my doorstep, like whinging she was leaving for camp on certain weekends. [But] the more I grew up, the more inspired I got from her," Isaiah said.

"She's always at my games giving me feedback. She's still the master and I'm still trying to learn from her," Isaiah told Stuff. 

Lorina has twice taken her family to NRL grand finals and now has a chance to play in one with the women's decider a curtain raiser to the men's grand final in Sydney on September 30.

How about Isaiah and the Warriors men playing the later game on the final day of the season?

"That would be an amazing dream. I'd love to visualise that happening and I hope we could, but we'll see what happens," Lorina said. "I have one life, one opportunity, and feel it's now or never." 

 

Main photo: Warriors players (left to right): Lisa Edwards, Kahurangi Peters, Luisa Gago, Langi Veainu, Lorina Papali'i, Shontelle Woodman, Krystal Rota, Hilda Mariu at Mt Smart Stadium.