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‘I fell in love with the sport when I watched Darren Lockyer play’

Dear Queenslanders,

To be a Queenslander, what does it mean to me? Everything.

Growing up a big Queensland fan, seeing what the boys before us did, the team before us did, doing eight straight, and just continuing to be successful. It just means everything to be a Queenslander.  

We owe a lot to the jersey. When I was first picked to play in the jersey, I knew I had a role, that I had to do my part to try and win the series.

We didn’t get the win, but it still meant everything to play in the jersey. I got real emotional when I got given my jersey because I was just really, really proud.

Getting the phone call to say I was in, we’d just finished playing the Warriors, so I was in Auckland visiting family.

I didn’t expect Kevie to ring me because it was about 6.30pm over there. I forgot about the time difference, so it would’ve been about 4pm here in Australia. I was just about to crack open a beer with my family. I’d given up. I thought I hadn’t done enough to play.

Kevie gave me a call and told me the news. I was just over the moon. I celebrated with my family over there, had a big feed, FaceTimed mum and dad and they were all in tears.

Everyone was pretty much crying, but I guess it was the best phone call I’d gotten all year. It was a really proud moment.

Running out. Photo: NRL Images
Running out. Photo: NRL Images

But being honest, State of Origin in my house as a kid, when they were on that eight straight winning streak, got not boring, but we just knew Queensland were going to dominate every game.

The nights that really got us going as a family were when my cousins would fly over from New Zealand, and in New Zealand most are Auckland-born and they’re all Blues fans.

That’s what really amped up the rivalry for me, in my household.

We’d have Origin games, and invite the whole family over. New South Wales or Queensland, there was a split through the middle of the lounge. That’s what got it going.

We’d have pizza every Origin. I still do that today. Whenever Origin is on, I get pizza. That’s what it was like in the Ofahengaue house.

I started playing rugby league when I was about 11. My first club here was Centenary Panthers. It was pretty late but I was a rugby union fan back in the day. I’d watch the All Blacks, Daniel Carter.

Then I fell in love with rugby league when I saw Darren Lockyer play.

I was a big Warriors fan because of the All Blacks, when I transitioned to rugby league I used to watch the Warriors. But I fell in love with the sport when I watched Darren Lockyer play.

He could puppet the Broncos and lead them to a win. The way he could control his team and led everyone around – that’s what made me fall in love with the sport. Just how good he was.

I have since bumped in to him a few times, had a chat.

What really boosted my motivation to play rugby league in Queensland after this was GI, Greg Inglis.

The force he was in the Origin arena, and the force he was in club land, it was like watching Hercules throw little people around. He was just so big and so fast and looked like he was the head of the sport. I just loved him.

I played second row, so not in the same position, but I just loved the way he played. He just wanted to score tries, play good for his team and inspire his teammates around him.

I was one of his biggest fans when I was younger and I got to play against him in my first year of footy. I think it was my second game back in 2015.

I lined up against him, it was a scrum. They were getting the ball and I lined up against him, I just remember going ‘holy crap, I’ve got to tackle this guy’. I got him around the legs and I was just buzzing.

You know, as a kid coming into footy, to play against one of your favourite players, it’s hard not to be star struck.

Running out for Queensland for the first time for me was good, trippy.

I’ve run out at Suncorp lots of times with the Broncs for home games. But I’ve never really embraced the crowd we get there. But when we ran out Game I last year, at home at Suncorp, I had a good chance to look up and do a big 360 on the field and look around. Really embrace the crowd and the Queensland roar.

No one fills a stadium up like Queenslanders do. Just to hear everyone cheering, people I’ve never met before in my life, but they expected me to be on my game. It was just so different.

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

You don’t really feel that until you get the opportunity to and I was really grateful for that. I told my family about it. It just gives you chills up your spine. It’s just the best feeling.

Camp was a really good experience. Obviously with the older boys retiring, I got my shot in 2019.

I already knew most of the boys playing in the team, Josh McGuire and Jai Arrow. It was pretty easy for me to try and get to know everyone.

Everyone in the Queensland team, they’re really approachable. It was just fun. Especially with the staff – Hodgo, Kevie. They’re just really fun to be around. They always crack jokes, even in the most serious meetings, so I think that’s the best thing about camp. It is a strict time and there is a job to do, but they still know how to have fun.

I know with Queensland fans, the faith is always there. It’s never questioned and I know that.

That’s thanks to all the players before us that have done such a good job, keeping the Queensland jersey to a high standard.

But my message for fans – my message to you – is we are determined.

Last year to be down by at least 14 points in Game III and come back and draw it up then lose like that in the end, we had no right to be in that position.

What it showed was the true spirit a Queenslander has for his state and his jersey and also his fans.

I appreciate every Queensland fan – the ones I know and the ones I don’t.

Hopefully I’ll be walking down the street in 30 years’ time and a young fella notices my face and I’ll be happy… ‘That’s that guy that played for Queensland and for the Broncos’.

Being part of Origin means so much to me.

We’re in a new decade now and we have our own chapter to write.

Outside of footy, my future is looking pretty exciting. My partner Sofi and I, we’re about to have our first bub which is really exciting. It’s a blessing. We’re engaged now too.

Sofi, she’s been cancer-free for a year now and we heard about baby about six months into her recovery and when we did we were just over the moon.

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2020 season starts in Rd 3 for me but how good did @sofileota look tonight😍 #BabyMama #SeasonLaunch

A post shared by Joe Ofahengaue (@joe_ofahengaue) on

I was playing Fortnite on my day off and she came in from the bathroom crying. I was like ‘what’s going on with you?’ and she showed me the little stick thing.

Having a baby, not just as a footballer but as a person, my dad told me ‘once you have kids you really, truly grow up’ and I think it’s the right timing for me.

I’m 24 now and I’m transitioning to be a man, coming into that manhood obviously puts everything in perspective… you don’t want to spend too much money here because you’ve got a kid to raise.

I can’t wait to experience the feeling, walking around with your kid after a game, after a win.

The boys at the club always tell me, even when they do lose they go home and it’s alright, because your kid is there. I just can’t wait. I can’t wait to have that experience. Obviously to be a father.

Sofi and I, we support each other. Sofi is a Queenslander through and through.

We’ve been together now for nine years and every time I was at her house for Origin it would end up in an argument because there would be yelling at the TV or her mum would be yelling at the TV and her dad would be saying ‘it’s just a game, settle down’.

They’re a real passionate family, especially when it comes to rugby league.

Sofi has always been like that with me. She’s probably not the loudest on the sideline but I cop it when I get home. In a good way.

Sofi and her family really encompass what it is to be a Queenslander. And now I am in a position where I really, truly appreciate that.

I can’t wait for the next series. The hard work, the comradery, the cheers, the pizza. Bring it on.

Kind regards,

Joe Ofahengaue

FOG #199

Acknowledgement of Country

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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