NRL Rookie reject takes centre stage

Waka Wanahi wasn't good enough to be invited to participate in Channel Nine's NRL Rookie program this year. Heck, up until 2016, Waka wasn’t even considered good enough to play Intrust Super Cup.

Yet 12 months after vowing to retire from rugby league this dreadlocked, reggae-loving winger who was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Melbourne, is going to be given his time to shine in front of 80,000 people at ANZ Stadium.

Having spent the majority of the past five years playing local A Grade for Burleigh, Wanahi was called into the Bears' Intrust Super Cup team in Round 9 for just his sixth game in Queensland's elite competition.

He scored a try that day against Townsville and his fearless carries into opposition defences not only elevated him to “cult hero” status, but made him an irresistible member of coach Jim Lenihan's team.

In 15 games, he scored 13 tries and will cap a season that was never meant to be when he takes his place alongside his Burleigh team-mates on rugby league's grandest stage in Sunday's Intrust Super State Championship clash with Illawarra.

“At the end of last year, my last local game, we won the grand final for A Grade and then I retired,” Wanahi told NRL.com.

“Jimmy kept calling me every week, telling me to come back and I said no.

“I wanted to do boxing so I started boxing and he kept bugging me to come back and my good mate Louis Fanene he said he was going to have one more year and I said, ‘OK, I'll come and do it with you.’

“And now we've won the grand final together.”

Midway through the 2013 season, Wanahi returned to New Zealand with his partner for the birth of their daughter and returned in 2014 with a renewed focus and commitment to rugby league.

Dividing his time between working as a glazier on the Gold Coast and his playing and training commitments with Burleigh, the 173cm, 85kg flyer says his decision to play with the Bears again in 2017 all comes back to family.

“I've just re-signed with Burleigh, so I'll go again,” Wanahi said.

“I'm playing good footy so I may as well carry on. And I've got to hold it down for my family too.

“They've been through the struggles, me going to training and being away all the time, I have to hold it down for my family and my girlfriend.

“The only reason I kept playing footy was for my brother. He was a lot better than me, but he had a bad run of injuries so I carried it on for him. He's a year older than me, but he can't play no more.

“He's had a lot of bad shoulder injuries and a knee injury and that really stopped him. He's got a family as well so he'd rather look after his family.”

And it was family who convinced Wanahi to submit a video to the producers of the NRL Rookie, who will now get to see plenty more of the self-professed “king of the rugby league field” on Sunday at ANZ Stadium.

“I wasn't really going to do it, my family told me to do it,” he said of his NRL Rookie video.

“I was considering retiring from footy. I was going to retire and my family told me to just give it a try.

“I did and I never got accepted, but I was okay with that because I'm happy with where I am right now.”

Front and centre on rugby league's greatest stage.

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*This first appeared on NRL.com