The impressive debut season of exciting youngster Tolu Koula saw him rewarded with the Ken Arthurson Rising Star Award for 2022.
Named after the ‘Godfather’ of Manly, Koula was a revelation in the centres or at full-back in a season that saw him score six tries in 20 games.
The 20-year-old made 72 tackle breaks, 11 line breaks, and ran for an average of 121 metres per game. His defence was also strong, finishing with an 82 per cent tackle efficiency rate.
After making his NRL debut against Penrith in round one, Koula had to wait 12 long weeks before crossing for his inaugural first grade try.
It came in round 14 against the Wests Tigers when he simply burnt full-back Daine Laurie with his speed and evasiveness to dive over in spectacular fashion at Campbelltown Stadium in a 30-4 victory.
Two weeks later, Koula crossed for his first career double in the 36-30 win over the Melbourne Storm at 4 Pines Park.
Playing centre, Koula brought the home crowd to its feet after picking up a Ryan Papenhuyzen kick to scorch the turf in a blistering 95 metre run to the line for Manly’s opening try.
His double came after he ran into a beautiful hole to dive over from a lovely ball from half-back Daly Cherry-Evans.
NRL Ken Arthurson Rising Star Award Winner: Tolu Koula
Koula said he learnt plenty of valuable lessons in his first year in the demanding arena of the NRL.
“The main lesson was the importance of playing good consistent footy,’’ Koula said.
“I probably wasn’t as consistent as what I would have liked to have been. It’s one of my goals to implement next year.
“I had a good time in the centres, especially playing outside of ‘Chez’. It was really enjoyable.
“Brad Parker and Morgan Harper were really good with their advice about playing in the centres at NRL level. They really did help me out this year.
“Playing at full-back was a different experience too. Tom Trbojevic and Reuben Garrick gave me some great advice and really helped me out there as did all of the coaching staff.”
Koula is now hoping to be selected in the upcoming World Cup in England after making his Test debut at full-back for Tonga against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium in June.
It was a proud moment for the Koula family after his parents represented Tonga at the Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney Olympic Games.