When Haumole Olakau’atu runs out for his Test debut for Tonga, it will be done with enormous pride and gratitude.
For the Manly forward only has to reflect on the personal hardship and sacrifices made by his parents, Ana and Ofa, to remind him of the opportunities he has been given today.
Born in NSW and raised in Sydney’s west, Olakau’atu is a passionate and humble young man. The damaging back-rower was subject to a media frenzy last week after pledging his alliance to Tonga rather than Origin for NSW.
This season alone, Olakau'atu has scored seven tries in 13 games for Manly and is averaging 108 metres per game.
“To play for Tonga, it means everything,’’ the 23-year-old said.
“But I know how much it will mean for my parents just because of the struggles they have been through, flying from Tonga to Australia in 1997 to try and find a better life.
“I was born here the following year. Growing up, you could feel the love and passion they have for their heritage.
Just hearing all the Tongan hymns and songs makes me feel grateful to be in such a strong cultureHaumole Olakau'atu
The eldest of five, Olakau’atu would often help his Mum look after his two brothers and sisters with Dad working different jobs, eventually settling on life as a concreter.
“Mum is my rock. If I'm in trouble or if I need to talk to someone, she is always there for me,’’ Olakau’atu said.
“My Dad is pretty much my best mate. I can talk to him about anything and everything from work to sport.
“When I see Dad working long hours in the sun and constantly bending over for several hours a day, basically every day….I mean, it just makes me feel very grateful.
"He loves his concreting, though. I used to help him concrete, and I still do it in my spare time in the off-season. I love it too."
The burning desire to represent his parents' heritage has always been inside of Olakau'atu. The flame was truly lit when Tonga upset New Zealand at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Hamilton.
A young Olakau’atu recalls watching the game at the family home of former team-mate and close friend Moses Suli in Sydney’s west, alongside good mate in Manase Fainu, who later represented Tonga two years later in Auckland.
“When Tonga won in Hamilton, there was a huge convoy of people waving flags. They were celebrating in the streets. It was a sea of red in Liverpool,’’ Olakau’atu smiled.
“Just being around that atmosphere that night was crazy. We could have only imagined what it was like in New Zealand at that time.”
Olakau’atu is set to experience that, and much more, when Tonga clashes with New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium this Saturday.
He is also hoping to be joined in the Tonga side by Sea Eagles team-mates Tolu Koula and Christian Tuipulotu after both were named in an extended squad.
“I’m so proud of how far Tolu has come. He is a small young boy with such a big heart,’’ Olakau’atu said.
“I’m not surprised by their selections in the squad. I’m just happy that they were given the chance by Manly this year to show what they have got. I’m proud of how far they have come.
“Tolu and I are actually cousins. My father and his father grew up in the same village of Faleloa on the island of Ha’apai.
“We're all from the same village…me, Tolu, and Manase.
"I haven’t been back to Tonga since I was 12 or 13, so to play for Tonga will really be a dream come true."
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