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Time behind bars forges Ranger's resolve

You can see the pain and the sadness in Ono So'oialo's eyes when he talks about the day he had to tell his distraught mother he was going to be locked away from society for three years.

The impressionable 25 year-old Goodna Eagles fullback/winger is now rebuilding his life with the help of rugby league after serving three precious teenage years (16 to 19) behind bars at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre in Wacol.

He can still remember the gut-wrenching day when he had to contact his mother in New Zealand and break the heartbreaking news no parent ever wants to here.

"I had to call mum and tell her what had happened," said So'oialo, opening up to QRL Media before he plays for the Queensland Rangers against the NSW Ron Massey Cup said at Pizzey Park on Sunday.

"She broke down crying on the telephone which made me break down, it was a day I never forget.

"But it made me open my eyes and it made me promise myself I would never put my family through anything like this ever again.

"It was so hard. I was only allowed four hours on the telephone each week."

So'oialo grew up in a rough and tough Brisbane neighbourhood, mixing with street gangs.

While he didn't go into details of what he had done to be incarcerated in juvenile detention, he didn't hide from it either.

"I was involved in an incident, and it went horribly wrong," he said.

"I had to mature pretty quickly in that kind of place (Wacol) because the only person I could turn to was myself.

"I would just sit in my cell day after day and contemplate life, think about what I'd done and how I never wanted to make another a mistake like that again."

As a father now of a young child, So'oialo wants to set only good examples.

"I want to be the best person I can for my partner Cassandra and my daughter Santana, who turns five next week," he said.

While his teenage years living with his grandfather and his brother were tough, he credits them with helping him grow up quickly and become a better and more responsible person.

"It was tough. I had a few incidents as all teenagers do, but I wouldn't change it," he said.

"I was involved with gangs growing up and footy was a big part of straightening me out.

"Making these rep teams from clubs that were better than what I was used to playing with helped me.

"It woke me up and gave me the drive because I wanted to go further, I wanted to play NRL - that was my dream - so I had to get away from the bad influences in my life."

Soon after being released from detention, So'oialo made Brisbane's Under 20 side before linking with Souths Logan, initially playing some lower grade footy.

He debuted in the Intrust Super Cup for Souths Logan in 2014 before returning to Logan Brothers again to play with his mates.

In 2016 he played for Ipswich Jets and that year was selected to represent the Queensland Rangers for the first time, before making the side again last year.

He credits brothers Ben and Shane Walker, the co-coaches at the Ipswich Jets, with taking his game to the next level.

"They were awesome, very different," he said.

"They got the best footy out of me. Probably the best coaches I've had.

"They are both very good working with players individually. They give you a lot of freedom and they don't blow up and yell and scream at you if you try something different and it doesn't work.

"They're not afraid to go outside the square and try something new, and they give you great feedback after your games on what you need to work on."

So'oialo would love to see them get a chance to coach in the NRL.

"Definitely," he said enthusiastically.

"They would definitely bring some excitement back into rugby league with their style of coaching and how they trust the players. I'd love to see them get a shot at NRL.

"They'd be fresh air for rugby league fans."

So'oialo picked up the nickname the 'Sizzling Samoan' while playing for Samoan Residents against the Tongan Residents in Hawaii a few years ago.

"I was told it was classified as a Test, so I have one Test cap under my belt and I am taking it," he chuckled.

Blessed with fast footwork the twinkle-toed flyer likes to leave his opposition stranded.

"I like to beat my opponent with my footwork - it's way better than alternative, which is getting smashed."

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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