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Community comes first for humble Ken Stephen Medal nominee Ronaldo

Living in a cramped, leaky garage in rough South Auckland, his family's few belongings sometimes stolen as they slept, a young Ronaldo Mulitalo made a promise.

Inspired by his Mum's outlook, he resolved to help others stuck in unfortunate situations when he got away from the struggle.

And the 20-year-old Cronulla Sharks winger has delivered, so much so that he is the youngest nominee for this year's Ken Stephen Medal, proudly brought to you by My Property Consultants.

The Samoan international, who is studying youth work, remains firmly connected to his roots despite his NRL rise.

"I think those kind of days were the hardest," said Mulitalo, who along with his siblings and mother Vaega spent six years of his childhood in a double garage before moving to Australia.

"When we were younger, it was hard enough that we had nothing. Not many people have been broke and still been robbed.

"That's unheard of. That was the most heartbreaking thing ... We'd be sleeping and phone and cameras and stuff were right next to us, literally on top of our heads, and it's been robbed from us."

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Mulitalo credits Vaega for instilling his positive attitude when they could have been swallowed up by their harsh surroundings.

"My Mum was a massive part of my life. She played both roles, really. She kind of led the way of gratitude and all those little things in life that we kind of take for granted at times," Mulitalo said.

"I think she still holds me accountable now to this day on my word and how I do my life at the moment.

"Looking at my Mum, [I learnt] to lead by example, not just by words."

His actions are speaking loudly. Mulitalo is an ambassador for Stepping Stone House, an organisation which provides accommodation and help to homeless and at-risk teens.

Stepping Stone House CEO Jason Juretic was his homestay host when he moved from Queensland to play juniors for Cronulla, so Mulitalo initially assisted kids linked to the charity in an unofficial capacity.

He recently launched the Give 5, Get 5 social media campaign - the premise being to donate $5 and tag five friends to do the same.

A video of Mulitalo breaking down to his teammates while recounting the story of a young woman who ran away from home to escape abuse showed his deep passion for Stepping Stone House.

"For those kids that are in those same positions [of hardship, I want] to give them that door to get out. Or not even just that, just inspire them to look forward and to look up to something," he said.

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"Obviously when you're stuck in that situation, you don't really get much motivation. So I just want to kind of let them know ... there's a spot to create your own destiny."

Well before he made his NRL debut in April 2019, Mulitalo was always eager to represent the Sharks in community programs.

On one school visit, Mulitalo noticed a student with autism who was upset at being left out of the group for whom he was signing gear.

He took the Cronulla polo off his back and autographed it for the boy.

"Our goal was to go there and make people's day," Mulitalo said.

"Those school activities have really, really driven me to be passionate about it as well outside of the club honours.

"My main priority was to be a real community man and not just a footballer. The best part is being able to put a smile on someone's face and make them feel good about themselves.

"I don't see myself as a footy star or as an NRL player still. I see myself as a person just trying to make someone else happy."

Ronaldo Mulitalo's acrobatics have made him a cult figure among Sharks fans.
Ronaldo Mulitalo's acrobatics have made him a cult figure among Sharks fans. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The flying outside back is set to enjoy a long and successful NRL career, but he has plans to become a youth worker afterwards.

"I'm already studying as we speak," he said.

"We've been into some schools already [with] some kids that have been doing it a bit hard and are finding it hard to be in local schools.

"I think the biggest thing we learn out of that is everyone has a different story and you've got to play the part of not choosing sides. You've got to play the in-between man that they need.

"I know footy's not forever and I didn't want to go back on the tools. I'm a terrible toolsman. I'm terrible at waking up more like it."

And he knows simple acts can have a profound effect.

"A small video [message] even," he said.

"Many people will see it as a hassle and I don't see it as a hassle. I see it as a 10-second window to really make a big impact on someone."

While his nomination is undoubtedly deserved, Mulitalo modestly considered pulling out of the running for the prestigious award.

"I had a tough conversation with Mum. First of all I'm the youngest to be there and I'm happy to be there with these names that have done community work for so many years," he said.

"Even if I did get it, I think it's a club thing. It's for the club, not for me. And even if I did [win], it's giving back to my Mum.

"That's her reward, not mine."