IPSWICH rugby league product Joe Ofahengaue will have plenty of support when he runs out for Tonga this weekend, declaring “half the island is related” to the young Brisbane Broncos forward.
The 20-year-old was named in the Mate Ma’a Tonga side to play Toa Samoa in the Pacific Test this weekend.
As he arrived at the Tongan camp this week, Ofahengaue opened up about how much his selection meant to the Broncos powerhouse.
“It was a very proud moment for myself and my family,” he said.
“It’s not just with our jersey, I think any player picked for their Island team would be pretty stoked.
“When you are playing for your Island nation it is a different story and obviously the whole team has a lot of pride.”
Last year he postponed his dreams of playing for Queensland and Australia, to instead declare himself available for Tonga.
In October, he was part of Tonga’s 28-8 win over the Cook Islands which secured the Pacific Island nation a spot in the 2017 World Cup.
Despite relishing his time under Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, the former Peter Claver College student described being part of the Tongan camp as a unique experience.
“I loved it (last year),” he said. “I rang my dad up afterwards and told him it was the best camp I’ve ever been on.
“We only had five days together to bond but just in that first day you feel like you’re home.”
Amongst his fellow Tongan teammates Ofahengaue said he felt comfortable being himself.
“Last year I came into the camp thinking it was just another ordinary camp,” he said. “I didn’t realise how much freedom we would have to just be ourselves.
“I think being an Island boy you’re not as open around other nationalities, you’re not as open to the team as much. But here everyone feels more at home, it felt really spiritual how everyone comes together.”
The former Ipswich junior has made a huge impact for the Broncos coming off the bench this year.
Named to take his preferred position of lock for Tonga was the cherry on top for Ofahengaue.
“I knew I was in the team but I didn’t know where I would be position wise,” he said. “I was pretty happy to find out I get to play in the number 13. I played there last year and it where I want to be playing.”
The Collingwood Park resident will be reunited with a number of former teammates from across the NRL.
“It will be good to see my good mate Pat Kaufusi,” he said. “I’ve known Patty for a while now and it is good to see a familiar face.
“I’ve known Sione Katoa for six years and I’m looking forward to seeing Sika Manu from Super League.”
The Broncos will be well represented during the international round with Matt Gillett, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Darius Boyd named in the Kanga- roos side facing teammates Adam Blair, Kodi Nikorima and Jordan Kahu for New Zealand.
Ofahengaue said his fellow Broncos would not be disheartened by their close loss to Cronulla on the weekend.
“It’s always good to change it up a bit,” he said.
“It would have been better to get the win but we just seemed to run out of time.
“Hopefully I can just do my job the best that I can.
“(This weekend) is all about doing my job on the field.”
Ofahengaue will come up against another Ipswich product in Manly hooker Matt Parcell when Brisbane host the Sea Eagles next week at Suncorp Stadium.
The former Ipswich Jet has made himself a mainstay of coach Trent Barrett’s new-look side.
“He’s been going really well,” Ofahengaue said. “I watched the Cowboys game last week and he was always pushing up and is always the first one there if a grubber kick goes in.
“It’s good to see him doing well, but there are no friends on the field.”
Mate Ma’a Tonga side to play Toa Samoa in the Pacific Test on Saturday:
1. David Fusitua
2. Mosese Pangai
3. Solomone Kata
4. Vai Toutai
5. Michael Oldfield
6. Feleti Mateo
7. Samisoni Langi
8. Peni Terepo
9. Sione Katoa
10. Felise Kaufusi
11. Sika Manu
12. Tony Williams
13. Joe Ofahengaue
14. Nafi Seluini
15. David Fifita
16. Siosaia Vave
17. Patrick Kaufusi
18. Micky Paea
Tonga play Samoa from 7.40pm on Saturday at Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta.