New Manly prop Aitasi James shakes his head in disbelief when he thinks back to the time he first met new team-mate Daly Cherry-Evans.
It was at Brookvale Oval, the day before the 2013 NRL Grand Final between the Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters.
The then 12-year-old was part of an U13s touring team from South Auckland that raised enough funds to travel to Sydney for the premiership decider.
“We did the haka for the Sea Eagles NRL team at their Captain’s Run,’’ James reflects as he overlooks his new home ground of 4 Pines Park.
“It was in the carpark. We also played a Manly development team that day.
“After I signed with Manly, I sent a photo to my manager of Daly and me together.
“It’s crazy to think I’m here at Manly with him now. It’s like it was meant to be.
“I would love to play an NRL game with Daly here. Hopefully I can get the chance to do that.”
The 188cm/112kg prop is just a few weeks into his first pre-season at Manly after signing a two-year deal with the Se Eagles on a supplementary list contract.
James has five NRL games behind him after making his debut for the Wests Tigers against Cronulla this year.
'Tasi' joined the Tigers in 2021 after playing junior reps at Parramatta after coming over from Auckland and leaving his large, extended family behind.
The 23-year-old says he has already received some valuable advice as he works alongside experienced Manly props Josh Aloiai, Taniela Paseka, Toff Sipley, Matthew Lodge, and Aaron Woods in order to further develop his game.
“I’m pretty lucky to have those type of players around me to ask questions and to learn from,’’ James said.
“Toff has been a real mentor for me. I watch closely how he prepares for training, what he does in the drills, and in the gym.
“They have all given me tips on different things.
“I’m just trying to be more consistent with my preparation in terms of getting enough sleep and what to eat. That’s a big thing for me. You just can’t take any opportunity you get for granted.
“When my manager told me of Manly’s interest, I wanted to come. It’s about stepping out of my comfort zone and go somewhere new to push myself
“No spots were promised when I signed, but ‘Seibs’ did say he will get me all the help I need to go to the next level.
“It’s a good challenge for me here at Manly to test myself and to try and break into this strong forward pack.”