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Clash of the heavyweights in Broncos-Tigers 'school reunion'

Six foot two, 109 kilos and Thomas Mikaele will still be the small fry at Thursday's 335-kilo school reunion.

But for a rapid fire move by Wests Tigers recruitment staff, the Ipswich local may well have joined good mate and fellow behemoth Payne Haas on Brisbane's bench at Suncorp Stadium.

During his formative years at rugby league nursery Keebra Park, Mikaele was invited to a Broncos senior development squad trial in 2015.

Mikaele doesn't recall impressing, or even taking an NRL career seriously at 16, but the Tigers weren't taking any chances.

Brisbane only got the one session with Mikaele before the Tigers' Keebra connection got wind of it and signed him, setting in motion the first grade debut that came in round one against Manly.

"I did a few development things with the Broncos, in a few of their development squads when I was around 15, 16," Mikaele told

"It was cool, it was my first time being in and around that NRL environment and the Broncos facilities, seeing what it was like.

Wests Tigers forward Thomas Mikaele.
Wests Tigers forward Thomas Mikaele. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"But I wasn't focused on that stuff at the time. Footy wasn't a big thing for me even at Keebra, I went there because my mates did and I enjoyed school footy because my mates played.

"I was actually in second grade at Keebra around that age, and couldn't really crack the top teams, didn't play many top A grade games there at all until I put my head down around year 11.

"But I had the coaches telling me to focus on my training, the Tigers noticed I guess and things started to happen.

"They gave me a chance and here I am a couple of years later."

Mikaele and Haas packed down as starting props for Keebra Park's 2016 GIO Cup winning team, with Fifita (107kg) in the back-row and Titans forward Moeaki Fotuaika on the bench.

Mikaele and Haas will come off opposing benches this week, all 194 centimetres, 119 kilos of Haas in action for the first time this season.

Despite managing just three games last year before being cut down by a shoulder injury, a $3 million, six-year Broncos deal makes Haas the most hyped young forward in the game.

His return has been delayed by a four-week suspension for failing to cooperate with an NRL Integrity unit investigation into an incident involving his family, as well as a court appearance around driving offences.

Mikaele too is back in the top flight after being dropped to reserve grade last week by Michael Maguire, he and Haas supporting each other through good and bad enroute to the big time.

"I'm close to Payne and David and we're all close mates," Mikaele said.

Broncos prop Payne Haas.
Broncos prop Payne Haas. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"On the field it is what it is, we'll catch up afterwards. It's funny Payne sent me a message this week, I don't know how but he found out I was playing reserve grade and he checked in, just offering support and that.

"Just little things like that, it's cool to have a mate coming through the same path to first grade and understanding the ups and downs.

"We talked around my first grade debut too which was when he had that stuff going on in his life, so I was doing the same, checking in to make sure he was alright.

"He's obviously got some stuff going on right now but he'll sort it out, he's got a head on him and I think he'll get the positives out of it.

"He's got so much potential. He's massive, he's so young but so big, and he's got that big motor to match too.

"That's the best thing, he can play for days and can really keep that physical game going."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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