Tonga the turning point in Fonua-Blake's rise
A Test debut with Mate Ma'a Tonga was the tipping point that turned powerful but inconsistent Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake into a genuine force in the NRL.
Fonua-Blake was masterful in his team's 18-6 win over the Bulldogs at McGrath Foundation Stadium at Brookvale on Saturday night with 26 tackles, 138 metres, a whopping eight tackle busts, plus a try.
He has always been explosive but until 2018 threatened to be a player who would not cash in on his doubtless potential.
He played all bar five of his 36 NRL games across 2016-17 off the bench but has started every game for Manly this year, averaging almost 50 minutes and over 125 metres per match.
Speaking after the Bulldogs win, Fonua-Blake said it was his time with Tonga alongside the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita that sparked him from being the young kid who'd look for the easy way out into someone prepared to do the hard yards.
"I was one of those players that just went through the motions. But this year, the pre-season just gone, I made it a goal of mine to push myself as hard as I can," he said.
"This year was a big learning curve for me starting and I feel like now I'm starting to ease my way into a bit more minutes and thankful for Trent [Barrett] and Carty [John Cartwright] and the coaching staff giving me the opportunity to start."
Asked what was behind his earlier poor attitude, he shrugs: "Just a kid man.
"I was a young guy coming into my first pre-seasons and I had that sort of mentality, when you're tired you look for the easy way out.
"Everyone has that mentality to start with but it took me a while to flick the switch and really turn a corner and say if I really want to do NRL as a job then I have to start putting in.
"It was just after I made that World Cup squad [with New Zealand] and previously in that year I made the Tonga squad [for the mid-season Test], I really thought I can do something here if I put my mind to it.
"I took my time off after World Cup and came back with the right attitude and made a step in the right direction."
Fear of being an unnoticed fill-in forward behind superstars Fifita and Taumalolo drove him to new heights.
"Jase is one of the best players in the comp. His form is outstanding, all the stuff he's doing, same with Andrew," Fonua-Blake said.
"When you play with players like that you want to match them or try and outdo them. In that Test and earlier in the year I got a chance to lace up the boots, I just wanted to do my best and not look out of place.
"I don't want everyone to think 'There's Jase and Andrew - and then there's me'. I want all of us to look on the same page so I had to really train hard and listen to what Dan [Ferris] our trainer [at Manly] was telling me and I felt really good out there. I didn't feel like I was just an extra forward."
Fonua-Blake has become a much more important piece of Manly's middle forward rotation since the departures of players like Nate Myles, Brenton Lawrence and Darcy Lussick. But those players and current pack leaders Martin Taupau and Jake Trbojevic have also been instrumental in Fonua-Blake's improvement.
"I was lucky enough to play with all of those older boys and they played a really big role in the years I played with them. Nate and Brenton are such wise guys and played the game for so long," he said.
"They had a lot to tell me and I took it all on board. Hopefully they're watching and seeing I'm doing a good job hopefully."