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The brutal Olam hit after Mum finally gave rugby league blessing

Justin Olam couldn’t take up his first rugby league offer until his mum gave her blessing.

For everyone bar the hapless cover defender in the grainy footage below, thankfully she did.

The unknown opponent from the Papua New Guinean local league wasn't the first, and definitely won't be the last, to wind up as roadkill in Olam's wake.

Which makes perfect sense considering this brutal 2014 highlights clip comes from his first professional game with the deliciously-named Lae Snax Tigers.

"Without them I wouldn't be here," Olam says simply.

Olam's debut for Lae Snax Tigers

Here is bidding for back-to-back NRL titles with Melbourne, 2020 grand finalists Penrith the next looming speed bump in Olam's rapid rise.

The Tigers have already claimed their 2021 title, their fourth in six years with another grand final appearance as well, throwing down the premiership gauntlet to Olam – easily the club's favourite son.

"I was calling them after their grand final on Sunday [a 16-10 defeat of Waghi Tumbe] to talk to them," Olam says.

Justin Olam, right, with some of his Lae teammates.
Justin Olam, right, with some of his Lae teammates.

"They are known for getting players out of nothing and making them into something. I think it's because of their coach. They've got a pretty good sponsor as well - the Lae biscuit company.

"They do a really good job with recruiting.

"Before they do their pre-season the club will sponsor a nines competition so young players from everywhere come and take part at the Lae Snax Nines.

"If a young player stands up there they will pick them to come and train for pre-season."

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Which is exactly how a 19-year-old Olam first got his start in rugby league.

Long-time Lae coach Stanley Tepend approached Olam as he worked through a bachelor of applied science in Papua New Guinea's second-largest city, offering a summer of training with the Tigers.

"I said I'd go home and ask my mum, I was 19 at the end of my first year of uni," Olam recalled.

"We were paid match fees and then a fortnight fee as well. They helped me with my tuition as well.

"Without them I wouldn't be here. They gave me the opportunity. If they don't pick me there, I don't go to the Hunters."

Heavy hits like that in his 2014 Tigers debut meant Olam would not stay for long in their colours, rising through the ranks with PNG Hunters and Sunshine Coast to be making his NRL debut within four years.

A few seasons more and Olam is considered one of the favourites for Dally M centre of the year honours and among the game's most punishing defenders.

Justin Olam on the run for the PNG Hunters in 2016.
Justin Olam on the run for the PNG Hunters in 2016. ©

Mum Evelyn has the best of both worlds back home as well.

Growing up in the 300-person highlands village of Gon, she understandably stressed to her son that education came first, football second.

A broken collarbone in a rag tag school game once led to Evelyn keeping Olam on the sidelines for two years, before his undeniable talent won through at PNG's University of Technology in Lae.

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He has completed his applied physics degree and has become a force few enjoy reckoning with on the field, much less stopping.

Another premiership beckons for one of rugby league's best stories.

But so too does a family and homeland he hasn't seen for two years now due to COVID-19.

Depending on quarantine restrictions in both countries and the vaccine he plans on getting once Melbourne's campaign is finished, a PNG return looms.

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"I saw my family two years ago, but I have never gone back to my village where I grew up for six or seven year now, so I am really keen to go back to my cousins and close friends," Olam says.

"They're all married, having kids and stuff like that. It would be nice to meet their children and partners.

"This is one of my opportunities to try and see if I can go home. That's the sacrifice I have to make to follow my dream."


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