In the four years between New Zealand Four Nations triumphs, Jason Taumalolo has gone from watching in awe on the sofa to starring on the field in a class of his own.
As Benji Marshall led the Kiwis to that last-minute 16-12 win over the Kangaroos in the 2010 final at Suncorp Stadium, a 17-year-old Taumalolo was glued to the television in his Townsville lounge, dreaming of the day where he would get the chance to be a part of it.
“I remember I was at home watching the Kiwis play that game and mum had just finished work,” Taumalolo told NRL.com following the Kiwis' 22-18 victory over the Kangaroos in Saturday’s Four Nations final.
“She came home and asked who had won and I told her the Kiwis, I was all happy and that.
“I went to school (Kirwan State High) on the Monday and was giving it to all my school friends.
“They were probably laughing at how much I wanted New Zealand to win. But playing in the black and white jersey and making it happen now is a different story.
“I grew up dreaming of winning with the Kiwis and that came true today.”
Starting at lock in every one of the Kiwis’ Four Nations matches this year, Taumalolo, now 21, averaged 118 running metres through the tournament along with 15 tackles per game.
His inclusion in the side was just rewards for the powerfully-built forward, who had been on the fringe of Kiwis selection since 2012 when he was called into Stephen Kearney’s Trans-Tasman Test squad as 18th man.
Between then and now, ‘JT’ clocked up three Tests for Tonga at last year’s World Cup and continued to knock back aggressive approaches from Mal Meninga to play State of Origin for the Maroons.
“It means everything to me being in a black jersey,” Taumalolo said.
“I am speechless to be honest. This is my first ever Kiwis campaign and to go 4/4 and to top it off with the trophy at the end… Words can’t describe how I feel right now.
“Playing for my home country and doing everyone proud [is an amazing feeling]. I grew up watching the Kiwis and the All Blacks and dreamed that one day I would eventually play in the black and white jersey.
“[I idolised] Ruben Wiki and Sonny Bill coming through the ranks.
“I was star-struck coming into Kiwis camp for the first time, playing alongside the likes of Simon Mannering and Shaun Johnson. Sharing the field with them is a big privilege."
Steve Paeu was Taumalolo’s coach during his time playing under-11s for South Auckland club the Otahuhu Leopards.
Even through his younger years, Taumalolo proved to be a handful for opposition defences, and if you watch any of his games from 2014 it's easy to see nothing has changed in that department.
“I always knew that he was going to be a good player, he was like a mini Jonah Lomu, the biggest guy in the team,” Paeu said.
“I just knew it because when he played he was always carrying three guys with him when he was carrying the ball.
“His dad used to make sure he would do his laps before he even started training each night, so he got a bit of a push from his old man who directed him down the right path.”
He was an NRL star before he had even celebrated his 18th birthday, and now Jason Taumalolo can boast an achievement many Kiwi players will never experience in their entire career.
This article first appeared on NRL.com