For Newcastle Knight Sam Mataora, the opportunity to represent his country of birth, the Cook Islands means the world to him.
So it was a proud moment for the talented young prop when he took the field on Saturday as a member of the Cook Islands side against Tonga.
While Tonga came away with a 28-8 win in the 2017 Rugby League World qualifying match, playing in front of a 4613 strong crowd at Campbelltown Stadium, which included his parents, grandmother and young daughter made the occasion incredibly special.
“It means the world, it’s always an honour to pull the jersey on,” Mataora said.
“It was emotional when we were singing the national anthem and I was trying to hold it in.”
At the age of just 24, Mataora has notch a number of international appearances for Cook Islands and says during the week leading into Saturday’s game, he took on a larger leadership within the squad.
“There were five of us who played in the World Cup but there were also a lot of new faces with the other boys coming through,” he said.
“Me and a couple of boys were in the leadership group.
“I feel a bit old and I remember when I was one of the younger ones."
Mataora, who made his NRL debut with the Canberra Raiders in 2010 before joining the Knights in 2014, praised the efforts of his younger teammates who perfomed well against a fierce Tongan side.
“We had a young side so I think all the boys stepped up,” he said.
“It made me want to play harder because I was playing for my country. It meant a lot to me.
“Everyone was fired up and ready to play so it was awesome.”
After contributing to the NSW Cup Knights’ premiership win in September, Mataora’s last match was the NRL State Championship against the Ipswhich Jets at the beginning of the month.
Since then, he’s committed to maintaining his fitness leading into the World Cup qualifier and hopes Saturday's game will give him an advantage for 2016.
“I will keep training and try to stay as fit as I can because pre-season is just around the corner,” he concluded.