Wakefield’s Tinirau Arona has become a big hit at the Mobile Rocket Stadium since moving to the club ahead of the 2016 season.
Yet the forward had to wait until he was 21 to make his debut for the Sydney Roosters back in the NRL after failing to make the grade at Penrith.
“It was a dream come true to finally make my debut in 2011,” said Arona, who is now 31.
“At the age of 15 in 2004, I made the decision I wanted to become a professional Rugby League player.
“As a Penrith Panther junior, I learnt how to work and train hard, but when I went to Sydney under Brian Smith, Rohan Smith and Trent Robinson, I learnt about the game and my role as a player.
“We beat Wests Tigers on my debut and it was one of the best days of my life.
“At the end of the 2013 season, the Roosters had just won the competition but I played only three games that season.
“I didn’t play in the finals series, but it was a great experience to be a part of the squad that year and witness what it took for the team to become champions.”
Three years and 36 appearances later and Arona made the move to Cronulla.
“I returned from the 2013 World Cup representing Cook Islands and with another year on my contract, there was an opportunity to make the move to Cronulla Sharks for two years,” he explained.
“I had a chat with Trent Robinson at the time and we both agreed it would be a good opportunity for me and my family.
“I got to play the next two seasons at Cronulla; I achieved some personal goals of mine and really enjoyed my rugby there.
With the forward’s time at Cronulla coming to an end, it paved the way for a shot in the UK with Wakefield, which was a perfect move for Arona.
“Coming to Wakefield just made sense at the time; Brian Smith was the head coach here, I got to travel with my team-mate Anthony Tupou, who spent one year at Wakefield, and it was a great chance to play in the Super League.
“After my first season in Super League, I got to understand more about how the game was played here and slowly found my role in the team.
“I also have a family and the more they settled in, the more we wanted to stay here at Wakefield.
“This club has given so much to me and my family and I’ll be forever grateful.”
Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Arona has no plans to retire and says he will only do so once his love for the game ebbs away.
“I still have two years to go on my contract; after the first lockdown I came back in the best shape I have been in since I started playing professionally.
“As long as I know I’m fulfilling my role on the field, I’m proud of my performances and I still have that love for the game, I’ll continue to play until the wheels fall off!”
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