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Heaven sent: The day To'o took flight after forgetting NSW call-up

Brian To'o took Brad Fittler's call in the middle of church thinking the unknown phone number might have been a food delivery service.

But at least he remembered to tell his family of his NSW selection this time around.

To'o will make his Origin debut next Wednesday alongside Penrith teammates Liam Martin, Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo and great mate Jarome Luai, who shed tears in his family kitchen when he told his parents of his call-up.

Pint-sized Panthers winger To'o told his mum Fati straight after taking Fittler's call on Sunday morning, which meant he had to take himself outside as his family attended mass.

It's a far cry from the only other time To'o has worn sky blue, a 2018 under 20s Origin outing that saw him take flight and eventually return to ground with his name spelt and pronounced correctly.

"I never cracked any of the under-age NSW teams, except for that under 20s game, I was just flat out getting a start with Penrith," To'o told NRL.com on Monday.

Brian To'o in 2018 for the NSW under 20 team.
Brian To'o in 2018 for the NSW under 20 team. ©NRL Photos

"Only I kind of forgot to tell my family about that one.

"My two older brothers and my dad made a mad dash to Suncorp to watch me play and they saw it live.

"I could've sworn I told them earlier in the week, they swore I didn't. They were pretty annoyed with me. I was pretty sure I told mum ... I think. They all left work and made their way to Queensland and were there for me."

A Maroons under 20s side featuring current Queenslanders Harry Grant, Tino Fa'asumaleaui, Reed Mahoney and AJ Brimson put the cleaners through the Blues that night.

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But it was To'o stealing the show.

His stunning, leaping try saw him fly the best part of four metres and plant the ball down one-handed just inside the corner post.

Respected commentator Peter Psaltis boomed the name "Too" out in describing the remarkable play, with Panthers officials only catching the fact To'o had not been correcting pronunciation and spelling of his name until after the touchdown gained serious traction.

"As a young kid I always had a bit of doubt in that situation going for the corner, it's a split-second decision so it's easy to play it safe and cut back inside," To'o said.

"I remember that one, I just backed myself and went flying for the corner.

"It came off and looked pretty sweet afterward, and my family were stoked on it, telling me 'at least you made the highlights reel' because we lost pretty heavily."

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Always good for an eye-catching play, To'o can be relied upon for a decent quote just as easily these days.

His response when Fittler told him he will line up on the Blues right edge next Wednesday night in Townsville?

"Aw shucks."

Mum's enduring advice as he packed for NSW camp in Coogee?

"Go home and pack plenty of undies. Obviously, I need those or I'd be in trouble."

Luai too says he is relying on his Panthers teammate to spring for a new boom box.

Long dubbed Penrith's CEO (Chief Energy Officer) Luai has challenged Blues staffer and ex-back-rower Paul Sironen for DJ privileges in camp since arriving as an extended squad member last year.

"I'm the music man but I forgot I left ours at home," he grinned.

"Bizza [To'o] can buy one, he's on the big bucks, otherwise I've got to drive home and get it."

Both Mt Druitt products are adamant their parents will be making the trip north to Townsville next week, with family tickets for NSW players still to be sorted after Monday's venue switch.

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For Luai Sunday's selection news was as sweet as it gets in the family home, where he, partner Bailey and their son Israel still live as they help his parents pay off their mortgage.

"Dad was in the kitchen, it was emotional," Luai said of his NSW call-up.

"There were tears. I walked out and told him I was going into camp.

"Dad's first question was 'are you sure? It wasn't a prank right?' Once he was sure we hugged it out and there were a few tears and I know how proud they are of me.

"I think it means as much to dad as it does to me. He's invested a lot of time into me, he'd take me down to the park after work and flog the crap out of me with fitness and drills.

"I probably didn't like it back then but I'm so grateful for it now. He's been there the whole way with me.

"I'll make sure they're at the game and I know they'll be with me anyway when I play, they'll be under my jersey the whole time."

 

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