How 'phenomenal beast' Ofahengaue built his Origin-ready engine

Nothing that NSW can throw at him on Wednesday night will break Joe Ofahengaue.

The Maroons debutant once pushed himself so hard in training he collapsed and was taken to hospital.

As a kid, he was chased by his father brandishing a bat after faking an injury to try and get out of running more 800s at the oval near their Ipswich home.

They are the sacrifices that have been made by the 23-year-old forward in order to reach the NRL arena and he is determined not to let his team, state and his family down when he makes his Holden State of Origin debut.

"I just know how hard it was to get here,” Ofahengaue told NRL.com.

"Ever since I made the team I've looked at it as a challenge for me not to let down anyone, not to let all that hard work go to waste.

"I'm not trying to put pressure on myself but that's the mental challenge in my head.

“I don't want to waste all the time and that my parents and my brothers spent on me, getting me fit and to where I am today.

"I just don't want to let anyone down, especially the guys that are going to run out alongside me."

Ofahengaue was 17 when he pushed himself to the point of complete exhaustion during pre-season training with the Broncos under 20s.

The squad was given the torturous task of running The Gap - a hilly Brisbane suburb - in 40-degree January heat, and Ofahengaue was given fullback Kurt Capewell as a pacesetter because he was too quick for the other middle forwards.

Match: Maroons v Blues

Game 1 -

Full Time
Maroons

Home Team

Maroons

Scored 18 points
Blues

Away Team

Blues

Scored 14 points

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network

The future Origin squad teammates were neck and neck until Ofahengaue’s body shut down and he crashed to the gravelly surface face first.

"I busted myself. I was happy because it was real, it wasn't fake. I woke up in hospital and was like, 'What happened?'," said Ofahengaue, who was so dehydrated he was placed on an intravenous drip after an ambulance had been called.

"They said I had passed out running The Gap. I was worried about copping a spray from the boys but they didn't care too much because they knew it was genuine."

What the boys didn’t know – and neither did the coaches – was Ofahengaue had been working from 6am packing 25-kilogram containers of frozen food in the freezers of his dad’s container business.

The cool temperatures subdued any feelings of thirst and because he was the only one who knew how to pack the pallets correctly Ofahengaue refused to take a break until he finished at 2pm and drove north to Brisbane for training.

“It just summed up how mentally tough he was," said Craig Hodges, Ofahengaue’s Brisbane under 20s coach.

"He pushed himself past the point of being thirsty, past the point of feeling tired and dreary and just kept pushing himself to the point where he collapsed.

"For a 17-year-old middle forward trying to make his way in the game, that was a great sign of mental toughness.

"I remember walking away so impressed that a 17-year-old, 110 kilo front-rower was prepared to push himself that hard. That’s what made him such a phenomenal beast.

"It came as such a shock to us because he’d been so great in everything he’d done, the thought of him collapsing never crossed our mind. But because he was frozen all day he’d just never thought to drink any water."

A fanatical runner in his younger days, Ofahengaue spent countless hours logging kilometres in his legs under the supervision of his father, Josh.

There were days he resented the work but he always understood it was building to something significant.

"There were a few times where I would try and fake a leg injury while we were running 800s and I’d pretend to fall over," says the Ipswich Brothers junior.

"This one time I went down and I was screaming and carrying on, telling my dad that I couldn't run anymore.

"When I looked up to see if my dad was checking on me I saw that he was running over to me with a bat in his hand. I stood up and started running and beat my fastest time around the oval.

"I knew deep down there was a reason that my family pushed me so hard. My brothers, my sister, my mum and my dad, they saw that I could do something with my talent. Then it just came down to whether I wanted to do it or not."

The week after his collapse, the young Broncos ran The Gap again, and Ofahengaue attacked it as though his career depended on it.

"It was remarkable. The whole staff were in awe of the way he handled it and how he handled it afterwards. Just incredible. He won us over then," Hodges said.

"He hasn’t got it given to him. He’s had to work very hard for a long, long time. He’ll do a great job for Queensland."

 

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