Heartache driving Maroons rookie to greatness
Moeaki Fotuaika doesn't play rugby league for himself.
There isn't a selfish bone in the hard-hitting body of this 20-year-old rising star of the NRL.
When Fotuaika runs on to ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Wednesday night wearing a Queensland State of Origin jersey for the first time he will not be alone.
"If I get out there, he will definitely be with me," Fotuaika told The Courier-Mail.
"Every time I play it is for him as well as my family."
Kayo is your ticket to the best sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Fotuaika is referring to his older brother, Mosese.
Mosese Fotuaika was himself one of league's brightest talents, a graduate of Keebra Park on the Gold Coast and a Wests Tigers' under-20s premiership and NRL-contracted player.
That was until February 2013, when Mosese tragically took his own life, aged 20.
The death of Mosese sent shockwaves through the NRL and the tight knit Fotuaika family, which includes nine siblings split across Australia and New Zealand.
Moeaki was 13 at the time and could not understand why Mosese was gone. He cried for days. The pain was excruciating.
But the heartbreak lit a fire inside this quietly-spoken man. Since that day, Fotuaika has played for the memory of his brother.
Fotuaika followed in Mosese's footsteps, attending Keebra Park and rising through the ranks to secure an NRL contract at the Gold Coast Titans, debuting in 2018.
Growing up in New Zealand, Mosese and Moeaki were separated by six years but the elder brother left an indelible mark which can be seen every time Moeaki takes the field.
"He was a bit of a bully to me (laughs)," Fotuaika said.
"He was six years older and would bully me around in the background. Same with my other older brother.
"It made me stand up and stand my ground when I'm on the field.
"He played league and made a lot of rep footy teams coming through the junior grades. Watching him definitely motivated me to get up there and play in the NRL.
"I think he would have been better than me, but things panned out differently."
You will struggle to find a more popular player at the Titans and Camp Maroon than Fotuaika.
He says little, but it is the way Fotuaika conducts himself on and off the field that has made him one of the most adored players at the club.
Despite being a teenager and carrying painful wrist and knee injuries, Fotuaika was crowned the Titans' player-of-the-year in 2019. He was runner-up to Brian Kelly for the same award this year.
Fotuaika's rise in 55 NRL games caught the eye of Maroons selectors and he will make his Origin debut a few days shy of his 21st birthday (next Monday), a milestone Mosese was only weeks away from reaching when he died.
"I will grab it with both hands and do my best," Fotuaika said.
"I'm trying to enjoy the experience and learn from the senior boys that have been here for a while.
"I'm the fourth youngest out of nine. There are five sisters and four brothers.
"When I told them the news they were stoked. They told me to enjoy it. It's an honour to be here."
Fotuaika will come off the bench into the front row furnace as the Maroons attempt to wrap up their first series win since 2017.
It is a daunting task but Fotuaika's teammates know he will not let them down in the Origin arena. It's not in his DNA.
"I am so proud of 'Moe' with what he has had to overcome," said Queensland forward Jai Arrow.
"When I first came to the Titans (2017) I was picking him up and driving him down to pre-season training where I got to know him, driving down on the M1.
"He does not say a word. He is very quiet and down to earth. He likes to have a joke every now and then.
MORE ORIGIN NEWS
"I remember when he earned his debut in the NRL the whole bus went berserk when we got told he was debuting and that is because of how much of a good guy he is.
"Everyone loves him. Everyone loves being around him and everyone wants to be his mate.
"He is so quiet and such a gentle giant off the field, but when he gets on the field he is an animal. He loves the tough, gritty stuff and he has brought a lot to his game this year.
"He is not only a great bloke but a great player as well. He has earned his mark in this team and I am sure he will do an outstanding job."
Originally published as Heartache driving Maroons rookie to greatness