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Braden Hamlin-Uele celebrates a try.

Last Christmas Braden Hamlin-Uele was ready to stay in New Zealand on the "beers and bakery diet" for good.

Eleven kilos overweight, wondering whether the Sharks were about to sack him, with an investigation into his part in a fracas at Cronulla Sailing Club underway; why bother getting on the plane?

"I was ready to give it up to be honest," Hamlin-Uele tells 10 months later, preparing for his New Zealand Test debut.

"Around that time I was thinking, that's it, I'm not going to do anything now with all this going on, I might as well get a release and leave. But again I spoke with my family and got through it.

"I came pretty close. Mentally, I didn't want to be around footy anymore.

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"It all happened at Christmas too, so I was over in New Zealand for two weeks. I had a lot of head noise about what was waiting for me when I came back.

"I left for Christmas break on a bad note and I was already overweight in pre-season, those two things combined scared me.

"And the thought of coming back, everything about it, I was 23 and I'm thinking 'I've done nothing, there's 19-year-olds playing Origin. Is the NRL really for me?'"

Short answer, it is.

With the backing of rookie Sharks coach John Morris, Hamlin-Uele played 21 games in a breakout season for the Sharks, earning a dream call-up from Michael Maguire for a Kiwi debut he can scarcely believe.

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Long answer, it was on him.

Hamlin-Uele's involvement in a scuffle along with teammates last December saw the entire Sharks squad banned from the Cronulla Sailing Club, with then-CEO Barry Russell threatening to tear up contracts if anyone stepped out of line again.

Off-contract with just two first grade games to his name and an extra 11 kilos of pre-season indulgences carried by his 188cm frame, Hamlin-Uele could feel the ice starting to crack beneath him.

"Bomber [Morris] pulled me aside after a training session to talk about everything," Hamlin-Uele says.

"He really battled hard for me to stay. He was telling me to knuckle down. It wasn't the way I wanted to start that last year of a contract, that's for sure.

"After the incident with me and a few of the other boys, I think I was on my last chance. Being off-contract too, it seemed that way.

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"I didn't want to leave a sour taste with the club though, they've invested a lot of money and to me, this was my last chance to make a living out of NRL.

"I just knuckled down, got through the work and knocked it over in pre-season, and here I am."

Morris's faith played a significant part in Hamlin-Uele's turnaround, along with some home truths from close to home.

His folks pointed out the difference between life in the NRL and working a 9-5.

"You'll be shocked by the money for one thing'," Hamlin-Uele can now grin.

A consistent Sharks bench role was the reward for his hard work to start the year.

Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

By May the Warriors were willing to double down. Hamlin-Uele was again shocked by the money on offer to take him back across the ditch, before taking up Cronulla's own three-year offer.

"A 24-year-old that has never seen those sort of figures? It was crazy. 'Let's go right now', is the first thought," he says.

"But I stopped, talked to my family, we thought about it and the longevity of things.

"No disrespect to the Warriors, they're a good club and they're on the up, but the loyalty I owe the Sharks is strong.

"Bomber showed a lot of faith in me and has had my back on a few things.

"I've never ruled out going home and playing for the Warriors.

"It's my home town team, but the season that I've had with Cronulla and the faith they've shown in me, it would've been wrong to shun them and go with the money side of things.

"Right now, I'm happy with where I am."

Right now, that's with the New Zealand national side, in line for a Test debut against Australia on Friday.

A niggling calf injury kept him out of their World Cup Nines campaign over the weekend, the Kiwis preferring to ensure Hamlin-Uele is fully fit for the looming trans-Tasman Test.

Only 10 months on, but an age away from a life of beers and bakery.


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