Having spent a large part of his life growing up down the motorway from Suncorp Stadium, there was no wiping the smile off the face of 'local' Kulikefu Finefeuiaki after his NRL debut for the Cowboys.
"I reckon every kid in this world that watches rugby league dreams to be on this big stage playing,” Finefeuiaki said after his memorable Magic Round debut.
“It’s a dream come true, I dreamed of this as a young kid.
"And then for me to happen in front of my family, in front of Brisbane, originally where I from in Ipswich, Redbank, it's a good moment.
"I'm pretty sure I had 30-40 plus (people) that came to support me.
"I even saw my old school teachers there, my school coaches – it was good to see them as well.”
Finefeuiaki speaks after his NRL Debut
Finefeuiaki was full of gratitude for his family who were a big part in helping him make his dream happen, even though he had to move away from them to see it turn into reality.
“My family, especially my parents, sacrificing their own lives in Samoa, Tonga and then allowing us little ones to have a better life in New Zealand or Australia – I just hope I can pay them back for that,” Finefeuiaki said.
“The Cowboys picked me up from my last year of school at Ipswich State High and then when I graduated, I had to move up there for pre-season.
"Adjusting to the weather, especially the weather up there is pretty hard, so I was not used to that kind of humid weather.
Cowboys v Roosters - Round 10, 2023
“But it was pretty tough [moving away from family], especially going to a homestay that I've never done before in my life.
"It was pretty tough, I was homesick a bit and missed my mum and dad a little bit.
"But they told me, ‘If you want this for your future, then you’re going to have to dig down and just deal with it’.”
Finefeuiaki, who has been playing Hostplus Cup with the Townsville Blackhawks, said he didn’t know what to say when coach Todd Payten told him he’d be running out for his first Cowboys match.
Making the most of his 26-minute stint off the bench with some strong runs and impressive defence, including a big tackle on Roosters captain James Tedesco, Finefeuiaki impressed Payten in his first outing.
Finefeuiaki wraps up Tedesco
“I thought he was pretty strong, he’s a 20-year-old kid,” Payten said after the game.
“He’s had a handful of games in Cup against men in the past six months, he played a couple games last year, he’s played every game this year which is four or five.
He’s got plenty of ability, he’s raw, he’s still learning he’s a handful.
“He likes contact and collision which is a good place to start from and we have high hopes for him.”
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 11 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville