From an NRL debut, a Test jersey, playing in England, to discovering a team-mate is your cousin, 2022 was an incredible year for Tolu Koula.
And the good news for Manly Warringah Sea Eagles supporters is that 2023 is shaping up to be even better for the flying centre if his superb performance in Gosford last Friday night is any indication.
In his first hit out for the season and the team’s final trial match, Koula was at his blistering best against the Sydney Roosters, showing his trademark speed and class to score a superb try after combining with another excitement machine in Kaeo Weekes.
It left Manly fans rubbing their hands with sheer anticipation of things to come ahead of the Sea Eagles season opener against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at 4 Pines Park on Saturday, March 4.
However, despite his personal success last year, the very quiet and humbled 20-year-old Koula has his feet firmly planted on the ground.
“I’m just grateful that, firstly, I got to debut for Manly and to play a handful of first grade games,’’ Koula said.
“Going into this season, I just want to try and play good, consistent footy.
“We’ve got a lot of quality players in the back five, so it will certainly be some competition for spots.”
After making his NRL debut against Penrith, Koula scored six tries in 20 appearances for Manly.
He had to wait 12 long weeks before crossing for his inaugural first grade try against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown, but when he did, the floodgates opened.
Two weeks later, Koula crossed for his first career double against the Melbourne Storm at 4 Pines Park.
For his efforts, Koula took home the Sea Eagles' Ken Arthurson Rising Star Award for 2022.
On the representative scene, Koula made his Test debut for Tonga against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium in June. He then shined again at full-back for Tonga in the Rugby League World Cup in England last October/November.
Despite his very full-on year, Koula wasted little time getting back into the swing of things, cutting short his annual holiday break to attend the team’s army style camp prior to Christmas.
“That camp was something else. I kind of went in thinking it was just a team bonding camp, but it was completely opposite to that,’’ Koula said.
“The first night was so tough. They certainly pushed us. No one wanted to stop and let their team-mates down. It taught us so much about resilience.”
And as for discovering team-mate Christian Tuipulotu was related, Koula couldn’t hide his joy.
“To find that out was amazing. We were great mates before that. We always hang out together,’’ Koula said.
“Christian had a stellar season and I’m sure that will continue this year.
“To just play alongside Christian on our right edge is pretty special. It makes it even better now that we are cousins too.”