Keaon Koloamatangi has revealed on the eve of South Sydney’s clash with North Queensland how he dressed in red and waved a Tongan flag at Mt Smart Stadium as he cheered Jason Taumalolo in the 2018 Test against Australia.
Yet Koloamatangi also described team-mate and close friend Cameron Murray as the best lock in the game as the Rabbitohs captain prepares to face of with the Cowboys superstar at Accor Stadium on Saturday night.
Born and raised in Sydney, Koloamatangi is proud of his Tongan heritage and the 24-year-old admits he was star struck when he played for the Pacific nation alongside Taumalolo in the June 25 Test against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium.
“We didn’t win but it was one of the best experiences of my football career,” Koloamatangi said. “I got to play with some of the idols I grew up watching, like Jason, Addin Fonua-Blake and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
“I went out with Jason a few times, and some of the other boys. You grow up watching them and they take the time out of their day to get to know you and show you the ropes around the joint so that was special.
“Jason was really down to earth, and I got to learn a bit of him. It was great just to see the way he trains and prepares for matches.
"It gave me a lot of confidence playing my first international game and with the World Cup at the end of the year hopefully I am able to make the Tonga team.”
Koloamatangi played in the second-row against the Kiwis as part of a star studded forward pack headed by Taumalolo, Fonua-Blake and Taukeiaho.
Rabbitohs team-mate Siliva Havili started at hooker, while prop Tevita Tatola was on the interchange bench.
Match Highlights: Kiwis v Mate Ma’a Tonga
“It was crazy seeing red everywhere. New Zealand were the home team, but it felt like we were in Tonga," Koloamatangi said.
“I went and watched in 2018 when Tonga versed Australia at Mt Smart Stadium. I was wearing the red, I was sitting up the very top of the stands and I could hardly see, but it was an awesome atmosphere.
“Win, lose or draw, I know the Tongan fans just love it and keep coming back. It just shows how much the team means to them, and family is a big thing in Tonga, so it is good that a lot of players are going back to represent their heritage.
“I had a lot of family at the game. I spent a lot of time with them in my down time and I met a lot of family for the first time; a lot of aunties and uncles, so that was good. They came to the game and supported me, so I felt very humbled by it.”
While Koloamatangi looks up to Taumalolo, he said Murray was currently the No.1 lock in the NRL and believes he has taken his game to another level after being appointed captain of the Rabbitohs this season.
"He is in career best form," Koloamatangi said of Murray, who he grew up playing alongside with Mascot Jets before the pair graduated to the Rabbitohs ranks.
"People don’t recognise the amount of work Cam does on and off the ball. He is a massive part of how we play and I feel like he is the best lock in the game, just with the amount of work he does in the middle.
“I played with him from a very young age so I know what he is like and he has played like that his whole life.
"The good thing about Cam is that you know what he is going to bring every week, he is very consistent and one of the best players in the game. The way he controls the middle and gets that ruck speed, we play a lot of our good football off that."
"He is going to be the captain here for a long time given his age. He is not much of a talker, but he leads by his actions and we don't want to let him down. He is a great example for our younger guys coming through."