Giant Queensland Under 19 back rower Kulikefu Finefeuiaki was “buzzing” when he found out that Allan Langer had attended Ipswich State High, the same powerhouse rugby league school he graduated from last year.
So it is no surprise the emotions of the North Queensland Cowboys-contracted talent were running high when Queensland Under 19 coach Kurt Richards called to tell him he’d be playing against New South Wales in Sydney on Thursday night.
“I was at home in Townsville and just getting ready to go to training when I got the call from Kurt that I had been selected in the team. I got goosebumps everywhere. Adrenaline was rushing through my blood,” Finefeuiaki said.
“All glory to God for the opportunity that has come my way. I am just proud to be a Queenslander.”
The 18-year-old, who said to “just call me Kuli”, moved to Australia from New Zealand when he was a child with parents Sione and Mele and older brother TJ.
The family settled in the Ipswich suburb of Redbank Plains, a place that is dear to Kuli’s heart. He is a young man who has embraced the history of Ipswich and the stars that have emerged from Ipswich High.
“It is my second home. After moving from New Zealand it was the first place we went to, and we stayed,” Finefeuiaki said.
“I got my scholarship to Ipswich State High and found out from my coach Josh Bretherton the history behind it, and how Allan Langer came out of there. I was buzzing. It is so good to have history like that.
“Phil Sami and Ronaldo Mulitalo have come out of Ipswich High. It is good to see them make the big league. It makes every student at Ipswich want to do the same.”
Finefeuiaki, who stands at a towering 1.92 metres, is in the Cowboys’ Young Guns squad and is signed to North Queensland until the end of 2023. He plays his footy at the moment with the Townsville Blackhawks in the Hastings Deering Colts competition, but has bigger fish to fry.
“I’m learning a lot from Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai and Tom Gilbert at the Cowboys... they have a real passion for the game, the team, the squad and their position. It just makes me want to be the same and make it to the top,” Finefeuiaki said.
“When we train, they are just finishing. I watch them walk past and I think, ‘I want to be there one day’. I’ve built a real connection with the staff and players and I’d love to stay.”
Finefeuiaki signed with the Cowboys while still at school at the beginning of 2021.
“[Cowboys recruitment manager] Dane Campbell called my manager and we had a meeting close to home and he said he wanted me to be part of the Cowboys organisation and how they look after their players,” Finefeuiaki said.
“I signed the contract for three years. It was a privilege.
“I’d done a bit of work with Jason Taumalolo in a camp in 2020. We did some drills and he told me ‘keep playing your own game and keep your head down and work hard’."
Finefeuiaki, who has recently recovered from an MCL injury, has taken all the good advice he has received on board.
Richards is glad to have him in the Queensland team.
“Kuli can play back row or push through the middle as well,” Richards said.
“He is just a good, hard runner of the football. He plays tough and that’s all I want out of him – to run hard and hit hard.
“Back in the 18s when he was playing Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup last year I thought he ran harder than anyone. He also ran some good lines and scored some good tries.
“He’s had some setbacks and is just one game back from a knee injury, but he has worked really hard on his rehab and he deserves to be here.”
Finefeuiaki is determined to make his presence felt.
“It will be an honour to represent this team, this state and the people of Queensland,” Finefeuiaki said. “I want to make them happy.”
Match: NSW U19s v QLD U19s
Round 1 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney