Before he made his club debut for Newcastle Knights, Enari Tuala set a goal to play more NRL this year, but after featuring in all but one game for the club so far this season, it might be time for him to reset his short-term goals.
This weekend, Tuala will face off against his former club the North Queensland Cowboys and is on a high after playing a starring role in Newcastle’s win over Manly Sea Eagles last weekend where he crossed for two crucial tries in their close 26-24 win.
However, in true team-player fashion, Tuala played down his involvement.
“I was just happy to get the win,” Tuala said. “It was a close game, and it went down to the end and (it was good) to get the try off KP (Kalyn Ponga) who gave me a good ball, I just finished it.”
For Tuala, the change of scenery during the 2020 pre-season has paid dividends so far; and while it was hard to leave his family and friends in North Queensland, the opportunity to push to extend his 18-game NRL career was too good not to take up.
“It was a big move, I was a bit nervous at the start, but the boys are really welcoming, and I am loving it here,” Tuala said of the decision to make the 22-hour drive to his new home.
“I found out at the end of last year that I wasn’t going to get re-signed with the Cowboys, so once I got the opportunity to come here, I took it straight away.
“I guess it was a lifeline for me, so I thought I would take it and get in a good pre-season.
“After pre-season, (the club) offered to extend me for another year, so I was happy and I took it straight away.
“When I came here, everyone was so close, all the boys are really close and everyone is like family here, so that’s what I liked about the club."
Growing up, Tuala played his junior football with Edmonton Storm, before moving to Townsville where he took part in the Cyril Connell Cup and Mal Meninga Cup competitions with Townsville Stingers alongside current Knights team-mate Gehamat Shibasaki.
Tuala also experienced success on the national stage with his high school team Kirwan State High School; a side that also featured an Ipswich Jets fan favourite.
“I played all my juniors at Edmonton Storm, that’s where I grew up, that’s where I was born, I loved playing there, it was fun, with all my close mates,” Tuala said.
“Then during high school, Grade 10, I moved to Townsville to Kirwan; Kirwan gave me a scholarship and I thought I would take that because I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to go into the under 20s with the Cowboys at the time.
“So I moved there, me and mate did, and I was living with him and I got a bit homesick at the start, but then my mate made it easier for me and the school were successful, we ended up winning the GIO Cup, so I loved that.
“(My mate was) Julian Christian, he’s at the Jets now. I played him a couple of times, (when I was at Northern Pride) it was a bit weird.
“(Playing in the Intrust Super Cup) was a good challenge, I started off playing in the Cup a few years ago and it really prepared me to go into the NRL and I ended up playing seven games straight for the Cowboys and I went back to Pride after that.”
A talented centre, Tuala’s ability has attracted plenty of attention in the representative arena, including earning selection in successful Queensland Under 16 and Queensland Under 18 representative sides.
“I loved it, the week before with all the boys was so good and up after the game – we got the win so I loved it, it was a special feeling,” Tuala said of the representative experiences.
“I loved it, it was one of the best memories and best camps I have been a part of.”
Also eligible for Samoa, Tuala recently featured in the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII side that defeated the PNG Prime Minister’s XIII in 2018, once again alongside Shibasaki and another future Knights team-mate in David Klemmer.
“That was another special moment for me, we went to PNG and it was a great experience over there,” Tuala said.
“I played in the second half, I came off the bench, but it was a special moment, especially playing with a lot of big names; big David Klemmer was in the team, Tyson Frizell, DCE; so I was a bit nervous at the time, but once I got on the field, I loved it.”
While he is not looking too far ahead, like all young Queensland rugby league fans, Tuala has another representative dream in mind and would one day like to pull on a Maroons jersey.
For his match-winning performance last round, he was also deemed the Queensland player of the week. For now however, he will continue to work hard on playing the best he can for his team each week.
“I have always had the Origin goal,” Tuala said.
“One of my goals is to make the camp (for the extended squad) – that was one of my goals (one day), but I am still working on my game, so I am not in any rush to try and make it straight away.
“My 2020 goal was to play NRL and now that has been happening, I want to play good footy every week and do my job and be consistent.
"That’s still my goal, to turn up every week with that mentality and just focus on each game.”