Ofahengaue perseveres in the face of adversity

Joe Ofahengaue had a stellar 2018 season with the Brisbane Broncos, and was recently rewarded with selection in the Queensland Emerging Origin squad.

There is no questioning Ofahengaue is a talented footballer, but it is his perseverance in the face of adversity that has been most admirable. 

The 23-year-old’s partner Sofi Leota was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in April, and he has been with her every step of the way.

“It was weird when it happened - it happened really fast,” Ofahengaue said.

“We were at home talking one day and she felt a bit of pain… we found a lump and it turned out to be breast cancer.” 

Since that day, the Ipswich Brothers junior and Leota have battled and overcome an immense amount of pain and personal struggle - all while Ofahengaue continued to perform on the field.

Leota, also 23, recently finished a six-month course of treatment that included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy of her right breast and lymph node removal.

Ofahengaue credits his strength and mental toughness to his partner Sofi and says the way she approached the situation head on inspired him to be a better man - on and off the field.

“She is so strong and never shows any sign of weakness,” Ofahengaue said. 

“She has never dwelled on the situation.

“She said ‘right, I’ve got breast cancer, come at me – I’m going to fight this!’

“I’m really proud of her… she has helped me in so many ways this past year and has really helped put my life into perspective.”

Ofahengaue celebrates try with Broncos team-mates
Ofahengaue celebrates try with Broncos team-mates

The Broncos forward was last selected for the QAS Emerging program back in 2016, and is excited to have been presented with another opportunity to join the camp.

“Being able to bond as a group and build those relationships with each other is really important,” Ofahengaue said.

“Kev has said from the start, he wants us all to grow as a group and continue to learn off each other.”

Ofahengaue and fellow Queensland Emerging forward Jaydn Su'A caught the eye of Maroons coach Kevin Walters and selectors in 2018, and were called into camp throughout the series to train with the team.

“It was such a surreal opportunity for me,” Ofahengaue said.

“I didn’t obviously think I was playing as good as I could have been at the time.

“Kev gave me a call to come into camp and experience what it’s like to be around the group.

“It was crazy seeing how Billy (Slater) carried himself and was always at the front of every meeting with a notepad…. it really opened my eyes to the fact that you’re never too good to learn new things and study the game of rugby league.

“I was able to go back to my club (Broncos) and try and mimic what these boys were doing in order to benefit my team.”

Ofahengaue trains with Queensland Maroons
Ofahengaue trains with Queensland Maroons

Ofahengaue says he has aspirations to continue to develop his game and one day in the near future, represent Queensland.

 “To be able to wear that Queensland Jersey - it would mean everything to me,” Ofahengaue said.

“I didn’t make too many Queensland sides growing up, but when I was eventually selected for the Queensland Under 20s side, it was the best day of my life.”

The modest young gun is no stranger to representative football; he represented Mate Ma’a Tonga at the 2018 Rugby League World Cup.

Ofahengaue believes the experience would be beneficial if he were selected for the Maroons.

“The Tongan fans are very passionate and it was quite a daunting experience at times - running out to such big crowds,” Ofahengaue said.

“The best thing I took away from representing Tonga, similar to what Kevvie is trying to do here, is the more time we spent time together as a group, the better we played together on the field.

“I’m hoping we are able to do the same through these Queensland Emerging Origin programs and one day be able to action this.” 

Ofahengaue - Mate Ma'a Tonga (2017)
Ofahengaue - Mate Ma'a Tonga (2017)