On the field, Ronaldo Mulitalo is a fiery customer – competitive, driven and not afraid to get up in the face of his opposition.
Off the field, he possesses a gentle soul and a kind heart, but is just as fiercely determined and has been working hard to use his position to make life better for people in the community.
The Cronulla Sharks young gun last week signed a two-year extension to remain with the club; a decision that took into account not only what it would mean for his football, but how the club had supported his off-field endeavours which recently saw him named as an ambassador for Stepping Stone House, an organisation that works with homeless youth in Sydney.
“I’m excited (to be staying with the Sharks)... I think it’s a great opportunity with all the young guys coming through, especially with all the boys I have been playing with throughout the grades, and finally seeing some of them get their time in NRL,” Mulitalo said.
“We’ve won premierships in younger grades, so I think we can definitely shake up the NRL when we get a few more games coming through.
“(But it’s more about) the stuff I do off the field; the club jump on board with it, obviously with my close mate Fine Kula, with what happened with him earlier this year, the way the club rallied around me and the boys rallied around me; and then obviously with what I am doing now just proves how much of a bond we have here and the love we have for each other, so I think that’s what made it easier.”
Being named as an ambassador for Stepping Stone House was a huge honour for Mulitalo, who is intimately aware of what many of the young people who require their services are going through.
“When I first moved to New South Wales, I moved in with the Juretic family, they were my home-stay parents; the dad Jason is the CEO of the organisation ... and so I had been working with some of these kids ever since I lived there,” Mulitalo said.
“(Jason) used to come home late some nights and just we used to ask him what was wrong and he was like ‘I was dealing with a kid who was just trying to commit suicide’* and those are the stories that came back home from a tired man who busted his arse for these kids all day.
“As I was leaving the house, I felt like what would I give back to them that would really mean something... Jason came up to me and said ‘would you like to be an ambassador? I know you like doing work with kids’ and I am studying it as well, so I said ‘cool, let’s get it going’.
“I had worked with these kids as well, and I understand totally where they came from and some of them have worse stories than me.
"One hundred per cent... the raw stories that I hear, and I look at the position I am at now – I said I couldn’t live with myself really if I finished up my career as a footy player and didn’t use the power that I had to do something better with it, you know what I mean?
“I think it’s a family thing, I didn’t have much as a kid... I remember how helpless I felt as a kid trying to help my mum, so if I can take that pressure off another kid, then I think that’s a great step forward to making this world a better place.”
The club and his team mates have been incredibly supportive and have backed a new ‘Give 5, Get 5’ campaign he has helped launch where he is committed to donating $5 every day for 25 days, while nominating some Sharks team mates to chip in as well.
“I texted the coach the night before (the announcement of his ambassadorship) and I said while we were having lunch that I would like to talk to the boys and present something... (and) all the boys knew how serious I was about it and I did get emotional in there and the room did get a little bit dusty for me and nah, the boys have been nothing but supportive,” Mulitalo said.
“The club captains jumped aboard, Shaun Johnson has jumped aboard, all the boys have just got behind me.
“Just today (last Friday), we made a thing about everyone bringing money for a bucket and if you had played first grade, the rule was you had to put in over $50 and not be a tight-arse.
“The boys had really rallied behind me and now they have tagged their mates at other clubs and all the other clubs are starting to fire up about it, so we have had Dylan Brown, Clint Gutherson, Jake Trbojevic all those boys, Paul Gallen got on as well and shared it and donated, and that’s heart-warming to me.
“Today alone, from all the boys bringing in their little bit, we have raised $1500 straight off the bat... so those are the heart-warming things that have kept me pushing for these kids. I won’t stop until we get some of these kids off the street.”
While he has been raising awareness for these important causes, his footballing ability has been raising plenty of interest as well.
Last season was a breakout one for the Ipswich junior, who made his NRL debut in Round 7 against the Brisbane Broncos in remarkable circumstances and also featured on the international stage for both Samoa and USA. He also played in the Queensland Under 20 representative side.
As part of the Newtown Jets team, Mulitalo won the NSW Cup premiership and also broke hearts when his side scored a last-gasp victory over the Burleigh Bears in the National State Championship.
However, the electric back said the best was yet to come and he had a lot of learning to do before he could fully enjoy his achievements.
“I still haven’t processed (last year) and I still feel like I haven’t really achieved anything in the league to warrant any accolades... I feel like I still have a long way to prove myself as a rugby player and I feel like unless I have played 50 games, I won’t really see myself as an NRL footballer, but until then, my main focus is working on my craft,” Mulitalo said.
“You are never going to play the perfect game, but I want to keep chasing that perfect game.
“As a young bloke, we tend to go up and down throughout our performances, and I still feel like I haven’t found that consistency and that gear yet.
“If you look like players like Wade Graham or Cameron Munster, Dane Gagai, all those players, you know what you are going to get and that’s what I am trying to find, I am trying to find that gear (where) my team mates know what they are going to get when I come out every week.”
His family are his biggest supporters – especially his mum – who always has a word or two of advice to help him become a better player.
However, while it has been tough to navigate the COVID-19 restrictions – “usually mum is here every second week into my ear or coming to support at a game, little things like that” – they have been keeping in touch via FaceTime, and she’s almost been more impressed by a new pastime he’s taken up than what he’s been achieving on the field.
“I got lucky (when) I got the opportunity to come back and play against Brisbane Broncos up at Suncorp (Stadium) and had all my family there, so that’s getting me through,” Mulitalo said.
“But it is tough, although nowadays we all have the technology of FaceTiming our parents and stuff like that.
“I have started to cook some meals now for the first time in how long and mum has started to give some wraps on that, so that’s good I can finally start cooking for myself and mum is enjoying it.
“We normally run a spag bol (at my house), but now our go-to recipe is steak and four eggs each or potato salad and a normal salad and we will have wedges or something with it.
“But we go through a carton of eggs easy in this house by the third day, fourth day; all the eggs are gone and we buy three cartons ... me and my twin brother and my best mate.”
On the field, the focus is on improving skills of a different kind. While Mulitalo’s short-term goal is to play consistent football, he is also driven by a maroons-hued dream, which is pushing him to work harder to become a more complete player.
“My long-term goal is probably one day chucking on that Maroons jersey, running out with a packed-out Suncorp or ANZ Stadium and getting booed or getting cheered on – I would love that,” Mulitalo said.
“I think being in that space, or just being in the Origin picture would be one of my ultimate goals down the track.
“My defence coach goes ‘if you want to be a rep player, you have got to learn how to defend’ so that’s something I am really trying to work on.
“Everyone sees the highlights of anything you do that’s good, but I feel like a representative team will choose people who do the stuff that no-one sees and I think that’s what Queensland is built on, is character outside of the highlights, so I feel like that’s the part I need to get to and that’s my long-term goal... that and consistency with footy.
“If I keep building on that, I definitely back myself to hopefully put the jersey on one day and represent the good state of Queensland.”
A member of the Queensland Maroons extended squad camp earlier in the year, Mulitalo has already had a small taste of what to expect. He is keen to learn more.
“I remember when Kevie called me (to tell me I was in the squad), it was a couple days before Christmas, and he called me and was ‘oh hey, it’s me, Kevie Walters’ and I was in the middle of a shopping mall and I thought he was geeing me up and I was like ‘shut up, this is not Kevie Walters – stop calling me’.
"I thought it was a prank and he was ‘nah, I am serious, it’s me Kevie Walters’ and I didn’t know what he was going to say next, but he said ‘I would like to invite you to camp with the Maroons squad’ and I just broke down in tears in the shopping mall, I was tearing up, I was shaking and everything and I said ‘cool mate, I’m excited’.
“Then I gave mum the phone call and she was crying as well, so even something as little as that, is how much I value the jersey as well as the team, and to be able to be in that space and meet some of the boys – I have played most of them now – but to be able to get into that environment and see hands on what it’s all about (was amazing).
“I was probably fan-girling the whole time I was there to be honest with you, so half the time there I was fan-girling and the other half was trying to get my head around Kevie Walters actually talking to me.
“Especially with those big names – to even be mentioned with them was like far out.
“Out of all these players from Queensland, to have your name amongst all these players who will probably go on to be greats in our game, to have my name there was enough to fan-girl the whole day and look at everyone. I was almost going to ask Kayln Ponga for a photo if I could.
“It’s an awesome culture there and hopefully one day I get a chance to be a part of it.”
*Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.