The destiny that led to Shibasaki's Broncos debut
When Gehamat Shibasaki's great-great-grandfather set sail from Japan for the Torres Strait in the late 1800s he set in motion a chain of events that has led to an NRL debut the football gods themselves could not have concocted in their wildest dreams.
Shibasaki will play his first Telstra Premiership match at left centre in Townsville for Brisbane against North Queensland on Thursday night in the city of his birth in front of family and friends.
Remarkably, he will also be marking his childhood friend and Queensland junior representative teammate Enari Tuala.
Sam Thaiday said earlier this week that "you couldn’t have scripted" the fact he would play his 300th NRL game for the Broncos in his home city of Townsville.
The same could be said for Shibasaki, who has re-signed with the Broncos until the end of 2020.
The 20-year-old, who grew up in Townsville wanting to be the next Greg Inglis, has a rich heritage that goes back to Japan via the Torres Strait as his father Gehamat snr explained.
"My great-grandfather was a Japanese pearl diver that came to the Torres Strait in the pearling days. We have Torres Strait Islander and strong Malay blood as well," he told NRL.com.
"That's why we have family who have flown in from the Torres Strait to watch Gehamat debut."
It was during adversity as a 13-year-old that Shibasaki snr saw the qualities in his son that have led to him reaching his goal.
"I am just proud of the commitment he has put in,” he said.
"He has a few disappointments in the beginning. He made the Queensland under 12s but the following year he couldn't make a single Townsville side and was in the Cowboys academy for a couple of years but stopped getting invited.
"He felt like he wanted to throw footy in but I sat him down and had a yarn to him about commitment and following your dreams. I said 'you can take the easy option of giving up now or go out there and prove everybody wrong'.
"I gave him some time to think about it and he came back to me and said 'I want to keep going'."
Shibasaki snr said his son would then come home and apply himself to his schoolwork more than ever and to his league training.
"He has never looked back from there," he said.
"It has been a real long journey. He made the NQ under 15 schoolboy side and we went to Toowoomba. Upon our return we got a phone call from the Broncos and they said they were interested, and as soon as he turned 15 he signed his first contract when Clint [Zammitt] was his manager.
"When Gehamat was young he said he wanted to be like Greg Inglis and have that same fend. In his junior days he was a very good fullback but for some reason he likes to be in the front line and in the thick of things."
There are many uncanny storylines all converging on Townsville on Thursday night in relation to Shibasaki and 19-year-old Tuala.
Cowboys recruitment manager Clint Zammitt is back for his second stint in the role at the club. He previously signed Tuala to the Cowboys and then became a player agent and was Shibasaki's manager when he signed with Brisbane as a 15-year-old from Townsville Brothers.
"At that stage Gehamat was a tall gangly kid with plenty of upside and he's just got better and better as he got older,” Zammitt told NRL.com.
"He always moved really well and had good balance but he was tough too. He defended tough and loved contact.
"Enari was always a standout and a wonderful runner of the football and a lovely kid. They both are."
Shibasaki, a Townsville Brothers junior, played against Cairns-raised Tuala as a youth before they linked up in Queensland representative sides.
They have both fine-tuned their craft this year in the Intrust Super Cup for Norths Devils and the Northern Pride respectively.
"Enari is going to be a centre at our joint for a long time. They have both got a big future," he said.
"They both know each other and will be comfortable playing against each other and that will help Gehamat out too.
"I am just so happy for Gehamat to make his debut at home with his mum and dad there as well."
Shibasaki's debut will be a celebration in Townsville despite him lining up for the Broncos.
Scott Keevers, who coaches at Townsville Brothers, is a family friend who recalls the early inspiration for Shibasaki only too well.
"Gehamat reminded me, when he ran and when he played, of Greg Inglis," Keevers told NRL.com.
"I know his idol is Greg Inglis and all through his junior grades he played fullback or centre. He modelled his game on GI right back from when he was a fullback.
"As a kid, Gehamat always had that grace across the field, size and the speed to burn."
Shibasaki has been named a few times this year as 18th man for the Broncos. Keevers recalled how when prior to the round-11 clash against the Roosters he was initially named on the bench for the Suncorp Stadium clash there was a rush for airline tickets.
"There were people everywhere trying to book flights to Brisbane but Wayne decided to go with Kotoni Staggs at the time," he said.
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"It is just a huge benefit for the kid to debut in Townsville. I know he is going to have massive family support at the ground and there are people flying all the way from TI [Thursday Island] to watch him and from Brisbane up.
"What is even better is that the schoolboys Aaron Payne Cup final is on before the NRL game and one of the schools playing is Ignatius Park College, and Gehamat is an old boy and a First XIII player from that school.
"It is a bit uncanny that his NRL debut comes when his old school is playing and his old teachers and coaches are going to be there as well."