A day after signing a contract that made him the highest-paid rookie yet to play an NRL match, Mosese Suli was at Rookwood Cemetery honouring the memory of the man who made it possible.
Last weekend was an emotional one for Suli. The Wests Tigers centre lost his father, Manu, at the age of 15, a crushing setback that prompted him to, for a period of five months, walk away from the game. Saturday marked what would have been Manu’s birthday.
“I want to make my dad proud,” Suli said, moments after paying his respects at Manu’s grave.
"Back in the islands, back in Tonga, he used to play. He always wanted me to play footy since I was born.
The centre added with a smile: “If I played good, he would say I played crap. He always motivated me to play footy, to get the ball and run.”
From a young age, Suli has been working towards his NRL dream. The Westfield Sports High product showed plenty of potential at schoolboy and club level for Fairfield United, but quit football following the shock death of his father.
“It happened in 2013, I was 15,” he said.
"I walked into my gym and he was laying there on the floor. I panicked, I guess. I think one of his heart vessels were blocked.
“Footy was everything to me, but I needed to get away. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. I thought it was over.”
Suli didn’t touch a Steeden from April to December of that season. When he was eventually ready to return to football, a trial with Parramatta was arranged. He didn’t make the cut.
“Moses”, as he is known to his mates, went to Wests Tigers in the hope of getting a go. It was a good fit for both parties and the 18-year-old has been there ever since.
Suli had the chance to leave at the end of this season, with Melbourne and Canterbury in the mix for his signature. The Bulldogs offer was particularly tempting given he had grown up cheering for the blue and whites.
However, he will remain at the joint-venture outfit until the end of at least the 2020 season after signing a record $1.3 million extension. It is the biggest deal ever tabled to someone yet to make their first-grade debut.
“The Tigers are the club that gave me my shot,” Suli said.
"I want to make my dad proud and help my mum, make her happy. I want to help my family out, especially my mum.
“I want to provide for my family and help them out as best I can.”
Not only has Suli not played first grade, the talented teen is yet to finish a National Youth Competition match either, with back problems prematurely ending those appearances. However, the former NSW under-16s representative scored in both fixtures, against the Storm and Raiders, to provide a glimpse of his potential.
The Auckland Nines provided an opportunity to showcase his skills to a wider audience as he trains with the top squad.
“JT [Tigers coach Jason Taylor] has been good, he gives me feedback after training and I can learn from that,” he said.
“I’m hoping to get a crack in the NRL this year, as soon as possible.”