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It will go down as one of the most heart-warming stories of the year.

A brother and sister, arm in arm, after Alfred Smalley fulfilled his late mother's wish and made his NRL debut for the Sea Eagles in Thursday's 20-10 loss to the Roosters.

His older sister, Aieshaleigh Smalley, is a familiar face in the rugby league ranks - a former Warriors NRLW player and Kiwi Ferns representative who has been there every step of the way with her brother.

When the family lost mother Mary-Lisa to a sudden heart attack in 2017, Alfred was just 17 and had recently moved from Auckland to Australia to link up with the Sea Eagles.

For Aieshaleigh, she took on the role of mum at 26 years of age, helping raise Alfred for the past five years from afar. 

On Thursday night the pair were reunited, Aieshaleigh flying in to Sydney from New Zealand after Alfred got the shock phone call on Monday night from coach Des Hasler to tell him he'd be making his debut.

Alfred Smalley points to the sky after scoring a try on NRL debut on Thursday night.
Alfred Smalley points to the sky after scoring a try on NRL debut on Thursday night. ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

After playing reserve grade on Sunday afternoon, Smalley brushed aside a four-day turnaround to jump at the opportunity to play a game in the NRL.

"I made a promise to my mum when I lost her in 2017 that I would stay here [in Australia] and try to crack the NRL and I’ve fulfilled that promise," Smalley said.

"It’s just crazy, unreal, pretty much a dream come true, I can’t believe it. I’m still shocked, to be honest.

Smalley scores on debut

"When I got [to the ground], that’s when everything started to sink in. When I ran out I lost my breath, I couldn’t breathe. It was so hectic.

"To have my family here as well, you dream of those kind of things as a kid."

His 77th minute try was a sign of fate. It was right in front of his family that turned out for the occasion while he pointed to the sky to acknowledge his mum in a moment to cherish. 

On any other given day Smalley is a furniture delivery man living in Revesby with his aunty as a part-time rugby league player.

He's usually sighted at Sea Eagles training once a week acting as an opponent for Hasler's side in their opposed sessions that usually last shorter than the return trip from Revesby to the northern beaches.

Other times Smalley is playing NSW Cup for the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles, meaning he's never played a game alongside Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, until now.  

Aieshaleigh Smalley playing for the Warriors in 2019.
Aieshaleigh Smalley playing for the Warriors in 2019. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Smalley came through the under 20s system with the likes of Haumole Olakau'atu, Manase Fainu and Cade Cust, winning a competition in 2017 just three months after his mother's passing.

After Thursday night's game, Smalley's boss was even texting him to find out if he could work on Friday morning.

At least he'll go into his workplace with a new story to tell while the Sea Eagles will take comfort knowing that in a week of drama they've given one young man a moment he'll remember forever.

Acknowledgement of Country

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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