Addin Fonua-Blake was regarded as the best prop in his age group while coming through the junior ranks but the front-rower he looked up to was fellow Warriors recruit Kane Evans.
Fonua-Blake and Evans are yet to pack down alongside each other in a scrum but the pair both played for Mascot Jets and went to Matraville Sports High.
“Addin is four years younger than me, but he was always a beast,” Evans said of Fonua-Blake. “He was a little shit at school but he is killing it now so it is going to be mad to play with him.”
Evans had already signed with the Warriors before Fonua-Blake sought a release from Manly at the end of the season and the opportunity to play alongside his former club and school mate was among the reasons that led him to join the Warriors.
“I have known Kane for a while now,” Fonua-Blake said. “He is a few years older than me and I used to watch him all the time when I was growing up.
“Because he was a bit older, he was making all the NSW and other rep teams and obviously when you see someone you know like Kane doing it you think I want to be up there as well, so he is someone who probably helped me out a lot that way.
“It is always good to play with someone you grew up with, especially in the NRL. You don’t get to do that very often so I am looking forward to the year ahead with him.”
With the Australian-based players in the Warriors squad training in Kiama, Fonua-Blake and Evans have been sharing a room.
The pair, who are expected to form one of the best front-row rotations in the NRL next season with Fonua-Blake’s Tongan teammate Ben Murdoch-Masila and Kiwis prop Leeson Ah Mau, have also been partnering up in training drills.
“I am so excited to be playing with the guys who were already here and with Ben Murdoch-Masila signing and then Addin, it’s a bit of a dream come true,” Evans said.
“Addin was the best prop in his age group and he probably still is. I haven’t seen a prop with his weight move the way he does and punch out the minutes and the work that he does.
“I have always had an eye on him and he has always killed it but he has still got heaps more room to grow so it will be an exciting year for him.”
Evans played under-20s for Sydney Roosters in 2012 alongside Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and was the club’s NYC player of the year.
New halfback Sean O'Sullivan and Warriors forwards Josh Curran and Jackson Frei were coming through the ranks at the Roosters before Evans left the club at the end of the 2017 season to join Parramatta and he has also played alongside Montoya for Fiji.
“I wanted to go to a place where there was potential to grow and I played with Roger back in the day at the Roosters so when I got this opportunity to come here I wasn’t going to say no, especially to play with someone like him as captain,” Evans said.
“I know what he can do for a team and players, he leads by example so it was a no brainer when I got the offer to come.”
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Fonua-Blake has also played with Tuivasa-Sheck in the New Zealand team during the 2017 World Cup and was an under-20s teammate of Euan Aitken at St George Illawarra, while Murdoch-Masila and David Fusitua are members of the Tonga squad.
The 25-year-old is excited about the opportunity to play with Murdoch-Masila on a weekly basis and predicts the former Wests Tigers forward to make an impact in his return to the NRL after five seasons in Super League with Salford and Warrington.
“Ben is a very good player and a very strong player, and you only have to see what he did for Tonga against Australia last year,” Fonua-Blake said. “I think myself, along with everyone else, is very, very excited to see what he does in the NRL next season.
“I have been messaging him about training and we have been having a bit of a laugh about who is going to come last in the runs. He is a bit nervous but he wants to make a good impression.”