Just a few years ago David Fifita and Tesi Niu were playing backyard footy together, now one is making his State of Origin debut and the other is following closely in his footsteps.
When Fifita was named to make his Origin debut for the Queensland Maroons, one of the first congratulatory texts came from his younger cousin Fanitesi (Tesi) Niu, who himself was preparing to wear the maroon jersey for the Queensland Under 18 team.
"I saw it straight away on Instagram that he had made the Origin squad," Niu said.
"I texted him and he texted me back."
The sentiment of the text message exchange? Love and gratitude.
"I was proud of him. Growing up together, there wasn't a lot to do, we struggled a bit, and it's so good to see him make it," Niu said.
"A bit of brother love through text."
As kids, they were always playing rugby league - with whoever wanted to join in, and wherever they could find a blade of grass.
"It's the game I love," Niu said simply.
"David Fifita, he's my first cousin - we would just play footy against each other. Just me and him.
"Growing up, I would play everywhere, anywhere - the park, the backyard, out the front of the house. Anywhere. I just loved playing."
From the backyard to the representative ranks
It was just 12 months ago the pair were part of the Queensland Under 18 team that suffered a narrow 16-10 loss to New South Wales at the MCG.
Niu, who turns 18 in August, was one of the youngest boys in the squad last year and is relishing taking on a more senior role in camp this year.
"All the older boys looked after me last year, because I was one of the youngest along with two other boys Xavier (Coates) and Jake (Simpkin) - I was 16 at the time," Niu said.
"Dave (Fifita) and Tino (Fa'Asuamaleaui) really took me under their wing and looked after me the whole camp.
"It was a good experience; playing against the best level players on the NSW side and it was good to play for Queensland with some of the boys I usually play against."
From young gun to senior leader
Not intentionally, but Niu realises he is once again following in his older cousin's footsteps - as a senior player in the Under 18 camp, with the responsibility to look after the younger boys.
"I feel pretty old," the 17-year-old said with a laugh.
"But the other boys are all tall ... and I'm one of the shortest on the team, so I guess I feel young too but I am one of the older boys this year."
It's a responsibility he doesn't begrudge.
"As one of the older boys, I just try to lead by example with the other older boys and look after the young boys and bring us all together," Niu said.
The talented player, who is happy anywhere in the backline, will line-up at left centre in the State of Origin Game I curtain-raiser.
Primed for Maroons redemption
While excited for his older cousin's State of Origin debut, Niu's mind is solely focused on redemption for Queensland's loss in the Under 18 match last year.
"We went down last year, but I reckon all the boys gave their all last year, it is just what it is... that's State of Origin," Niu said with a hint of disappointment because of the result.
"This year we have a great group again. A group that will work for each other and hopefully we can get the job done on Wednesday night.
The added bonus of playing in Brisbane in front of friends and family is not lost on the youngster, who started playing rugby league for the Forest Lake Magpies before moving to Souths Acacia Ridge Magpies and then Logan Brothers.
Niu's mum and dad will be in the stands at Suncorp Stadium along with Fifita's mother and brother. His two older brothers, older sister and younger brother will be live streaming the match at home.
"I'll definitely be sticking around to watch Dave and Queensland in the State of Origin," Niu said.
"I think he'll be focused on his debut, so I'm not expecting him to be watching my game, but he knows I'll be looking."
Impressive displays as a 16-year-old in Souths Logan's Auswide Bank Mal Meninga team promoted Niu to an Intrust Super Cup debut for the Magpies this year - where he started playing more games in the centres as opposed to his usual fullback spot.
"I always wanted to play for Souths, after seeing all the older boys making the Cup team," Niu said.
He has scored two tries in his seven appearances and averages 100 metres per game.
The 17-year-old believes the Intrust Super Cup has made him a better player, which he hopes will help Queensland to a win in Under 18s this year.
"Playing Cup is very physical and tough, but it's fast too," Niu said.
"There's no room for making errors."
Following in Fifita's footsteps ... but no pressure
A laid-back Niu is passionate about his rugby league, there is no denying that. But, he also doesn't put too much pressure on himself.
"I am sort of following him (Fifita) in what he's doing," the Broncos-contracted player said.
But rather than feel the pressure to make his NRL debut as an 18-year-old like his older cousin, he uses Fifita's success as motivation and inspiration.
"He is where he is now because of what he is doing," Niu said, referring to Fifita's dedication to training and his work ethic.
"He is an inspiration for me.
"Playing in the NRL, it is a long-term goal, but for now I'm just trying to focus on playing good footy and being consistent in what I do.
"I'm playing the game I love and I just try to do my best."
Match: QLD U18s v NSW U18s
Round 1 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane