In his first representative camp, Roosters young gun Tuku Hau Tapuha is making up for lost time to learn everything he can about his Māori heritage.
Just three games into his NRL career and at the tender age of 21, Hau Tapuha (whose family traces to the Ngapuhi iwi) has been hand-picked to represent his Māori culture in this week's All Stars clash.
While the thrill of playing alongside some of the game's best players in the annual showpiece event is certainly an exciting prospect, the humble front rower is looking to gain knowledge of his maternal family; knowledge that he admits is long overdue.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” Hau Tapuha said of the camp.
“Especially being around the calibre of players around me, it’s mad. I’m having a lot of fun.
“I think it’s a part of my side – my mum’s side – that I kind of neglected a bit. Culturally I feel like I was a lot more around my Tongan side, which was more predominant growing up.
“Although I’ve always been around the Māori scene in junior rep teams, I never actually learnt about my ancestors, so it’s great to be around people and learn more about my culture.
“When you represent your heritage or culture, it’s your family, your whānau. I feel like it goes a lot deeper for the individual to tap into that family aspect and that pride.
“It’s really good to learn both as a player and as a Māori.”
After completing his rookie season in the top grade in the Tricolours, the hulking forward has been starstruck by his more established teammates, looking to take in as many lessons from them both on and off the field.
But it was a Roosters leader that he is taking the most inspiration from - one who, despite his stature in the game, has still yet to wear the colours of the Māori All Stars.
“I always knew our people were really prideful, but hearing some of the boys talk about what it means to be Māori, it’s very special,” he said.
“I remember talking to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves about it, and he was almost envious of the boys who have played that game. He hasn’t yet played in the All Stars, and he was absolutely stoked for me. He was pushing me to do whatever it took to play in the match.
“How some of the leaders talk about their heritage and their lineage, how proud they are to be who they are and where they are, I love it. It’s a very special culture."
In a unique twist, Hau Tapuha will join his partner Jodeci Nicholson - who featured for the Māori Ferns in 2021 - as an All Stars representative as he joins David Kidwell's brigade of youngsters.
And there will be plenty of family and friends at Commbank Stadium this Saturday night to celebrate his latest achievement - one that he will certainly be eternally grateful for.
“My manager called me up and just said to expect a call by Kiddy in the next couple of days,” he explained.
When you represent your heritage or culture, it’s your family, your whānau. I feel like it goes a lot deeper for the individual to tap into that family aspect and that pride.Tuku Hau Tapuha On the All Stars experience
“A couple of hours later I was on the phone with him. He told me he was pretty interested and that he had seen some of my games and that he was keen to get me on board along with a few younger boys.
“I was stoked. I called my partner first, and she was absolutely stoked for me. I got home and called mum straight away and she was pretty proud. Dad was a bit funny, he’s pretty fresh. He was joking if there was a Tongan All Stars team, but he was proud of me too.
“I’ve got some family will be coming. My sister and her partner will be coming down from Brisbane, but I’ve also got a couple of mates from the Roosters who have been asking for a couple of tickets.
“I’m just so grateful to be given the opportunity.”