If you want to know what drives Mahe Fonua, you only have to look at the two golden letters engraved into his front teeth.
M and F.
At the age of 15, the Wests Tigers outside back had his father’s wedding ring melted down and used to spell out his initials in his mouth.
It’s one of the first things you notice about the 25-year-old flyer, who in 2012 made history when he became the first Victorian-bred player to make his NRL debut.
In his native Tonga, it’s a custom and rite of passage for young men and women to have their parents’ wedding bands melted down and cast into a golden tooth.
North Queensland sensation Jason Taumalolo underwent the same procedure, only Fonua’s parents asked that they be moulded into his initials.
Fonua describes family as his driving and his teeth as a permanent reminder of what he’s striving for.
“It’s actually my dad’s wedding ring,” Fonua said.
"Because I wear a mouthguard, no one actually notices. They just think it’s gold teeth until they see a photo.
"That’s my drive. Heaps of other players have different reasons for how they play. My family is the reason why I play.
“I’m a really family-orientated person. Knowing I’ve walked off the field making them proud, it’s one of the biggest things for me.”
Fonua is back in Australia after two successful seasons with Hull FC in the English Super League and embracing his second shot at an NRL career.
He left the Storm after 50 first-grade games and is determined to nail down a spot in the Tigers’ backline.
He’s locked in a battle with the likes of Esan Marsters and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak for a spot on Ivan Cleary’s left side and will be putting his best foot forward in Saturday’s trial against North Queensland in Cairns.
“Now I’ve been given a second opportunity in the NRL, I really want to grab it with both hands and make the most of it,” Fonua said.
"When I went over to Super League, I was still 23 and I’m back here now at 25.
“I’d like to think my two years over in the Super League has helped me mature as a person and as a player and I can benefit from it this season.”
Family driving Fonua on his NRL return. https://nrl.sportsmatemobile.com/news/21947.