Of all the congratulatory messages NSW prop Daniel Saifiti received after his State of Origin debut in Perth last month, one that carried the most significance for him came from a member of the Queensland camp.
Petero Civoniceva was Saifiti’s idol growing up and an early influence on the Newcastle front-rower's career through his involvement with Fiji, but he had no contact with the Maroons forwards coach during the lead-up to Origin II at Optus Stadium.
However, Civoniceva messaged Saifiti after NSW's 38-6 triumph and praised his performance, where he ran the ball 100 metres and made 15 tackles during two stints totalling 33 minutes.
"It must be a Queensland thing," Saifiti said. "I didn’t think he would talk to me at the start of the week but he messaged me after the game and congratulated me, so that meant the world to me.
"He just said 'Congrats, I thought you played well, I am so happy for you and how far you have come'.
"Being Fijian and a front-rower, Petero was my idol. I just loved the way he played. He was so tough and he is front-rower you want to model your game on but at the same time, anyone who knows him will tell you he is one of the best guys you will ever meet.
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"He was an animal on the field but he is the nicest guy in the world so he was someone I looked up to not just as a player but as a person. For him to message me after the game to congratulate me meant a lot to me."
It wasn't just Civoniceva who was impressed by Saifiti's Origin debut but also NSW coach Brad Fittler, whose selection of the 23-year-old as a replacement for his injured Newcastle team-mate David Klemmer seemed a left-field choice to all but Blues insiders.
Fittler had been considering Saifiti for a front-row spot since the start of the series and the told him at an Emerging Origin camp he liked the way he played.
When Klemmer was ruled out with a fractured wrist, Fittler decided Saifiti would make an ideal replacement and was so impressed with his performance he retained him for next Wednesday night’s series decider ahead of his more illustrious Knights front-row partner.
"I always thought he had a fair bit, not just now but in the past," Fittler said.
"I thought he was a really good player and there were things in his game that were better than normal and that you can’t really train, that come naturally.
"To watch what he did in Perth was just awesome. His job was pretty simple and he just did it. He didn't get overwhelmed and he was impressive. He did a great job."
The arrival of Klemmer at Newcastle this season has had a huge influence on Saifiti's rise after making his NRL debut in 2016 at the age of 19.
Saifiti admitted that it was tough being expected to lead an undermanned Knights forward pack with twin Jacob from the bottom of the Telstra Premiership ladder. But he was benefitting from the experience now.
"I probably played first grade too early. If I was at other clubs I wouldn't have played many games but when you go through tough times like that it makes the good times like now feel much better," Saifiti said.
"I am not going to lie, my first year it was hard to stay motivated. We won one game all year and we were getting flogged every week. I had never experienced those kind of losses before so I was probably almost guilty of losing too much and having a losing culture there.
"It effected my game for probably two years but with Klem and all of the other signings coming here this year, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for those guys. They have showed me the ropes and I am grateful for it."
Asked about his selection ahead of Klemmer, Saifiti said: "I thought Klem would come back but after winning like that I understand Freddie's point of view in sticking with the same team. At the same time, I feel for Klem. He is one of my good mates and he wished me well. He has always got my back."
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown promoted Saifiti to the starting side alongside Klemmer after the Knights lost five of their opening six games and they won their next six matches in succession.
Saifiti said Klemmer had given him advice on a virtual daily basis before Origin II and he would continue to consult him ahead of the series decider at ANZ Stadium.
"He is the best front-rower in the game and I wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t come to the Knights," he said.
"He has made me such a better player and he has showed me to believe in myself."