Maroons debutant Joe Ofahengaue has revealed how advice from coach Kevin Walters and assistant coach Justin Hodges gave him the building blocks to force his way into the Queensland side after he thought his chances had evaporated.
The 23-year-old forward received advice from Hodges and then Walters earlier in the year about what he needed to do to get into the side.
"And then after that I didn't hear back so it was a bit of a shock still being in the frame. At the start of the year we hadn't been going too good at the Broncos so I didn't think I had a chance," he said.
"Then I started blocking out all the head noise. Even with all you guys in the media naming teams, it wasn't too hard for me because I just wanted to start winning for the Broncos. I thought if I wanted to make this Queensland team I’ve got to start finding some form and start getting some wins on the board.”
Ofahengaue said he decided to apply the advice the Maroons brains trust gave him and it worked a treat.
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"It was just getting back to what I do best and playing my style of footy which is to take those tough carries, hit people hard if I can, fill in the space where I can and do all those little things," he said.
"That is what Hodgo was trying to get at and why they were looking at me to start with. Last year I focused on doing all those little things around the ruck, getting there for the kick-chase and supporting players. Hodgo called me about that and Kevvie said the same thing. I just knuckled down and played the way I can rather than going out there and trying to be a superstar."
A masterstroke by Broncos coach Anthony Seibold also played a key part in Ofahengaue’s selection, where he will line up on the bench in the Holden State of Origin series opener on June 5 at Suncorp Stadium.
After playing the opening six games of the season as starting prop, Seibold moved Ofahengaue to the bench in round seven against the Sharks where he has remained in Brisbane’s four wins from the last five games.
He has played as many minutes off the bench but made more of an impact, including 200 running metres against Manly.
"I have played 81 games of NRL and around 70 of them off the bench. I know what it takes to add impact off the bench,” Ofahengaue said.
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"Seibs sat me down and asked me if I would be alright with that and I said I’d do anything for the team. With that rotation of Lodgey [Matt Lodge] coming off and me going on it still keeps the experience there and Payne [Haas] goes for days anyway.”
Ofahengaue has played six Tests for Tonga and is still keen to play for the Mate Ma'a.
"I have got an opportunity to play for Tonga at the end of the year anyway. For now I am more focused on the Maroons, but I know how the international rules work," he said.
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"I can play for Tonga again at the end of the year. It just comes down to whether Woolfy [Kristian Woolf] wants to pick me. I am still opening my door for Tonga.
"To get selected [for Queensland] was a bit emotional for me because since I was a kid I have wanted to play for Queensland.
"It was crazy. I got the call in New Zealand and my reception wasn't working. I think Kevvie accidentally FaceTimed me so I had to switch it to FaceTime audio. I was talking to him and he told me I was in the team. I hung up the phone and started crying. Then I rang my Dad.
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"After the Warriors game, Alfie [Langer] kept telling me 'you're going to be in camp', but I didn't want to get my hopes up."
Ofahengaue’s selection is a reward for fighting back from a disappointing 2016 after a breakout 2015 with the Broncos.
"Yes, 2016 wasn’t too good for me. I got dropped to [Intrust Super] Cup," he said.
"I think I just thought it would be easy to make it every year and took for granted the team we had that year. I thought we’d be in the GF every year. I didn’t realise how hard it was to make a grand final and I haven’t been back ever since. It just opened my eyes to never getting comfortable in the NRL. I am trying to keep myself honest every week."
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