Tu’u Maori, a much-loved member of the Ipswich Jets family who helped lead their Brisbane Rugby League team to a premiership title, passed away earlier this month following a three-year battle with motor neurone disease.
Always up for a challenge on the field – be it with Ipswich, for the Sydney Roosters, Newtown Jets, Cronulla Sharks or Melbourne Storm – Maori was there leading the way.
Maori also represented Papua New Guinea in the 2008 World Cup and 2009 Pacific Cup.
Off the field, Maori took up the fight against MND when he was diagnosed in 2019 and sadly lost that battle at the age of 33 on January 3.
More than 2000 people have MND in Australia, a group of diseases that affect nerve cells that normally carry messages from the brain to the muscles via the spinal cord. Currently, there is no cure.
Maori fought the MND beast for three years.
A robust centre or winger, Maori played Cup for the Ipswich Jets and as captain, guided the club’s Brisbane Rugby League side to the premiership in 2015.
Maori’s big frame always made an impact on games and his time at the Ipswich Jets was characterised by hard carries and efforts that his team needed.
It was not long into the 2015 BRL decider before he made his presence felt, going down the Jets left hand side, dragging in Wynnum Manly Redland City defenders to help set up the next important play. From there, the Jets went right and then back to the middle for Pete Whittaker to score the first try of the grand final and set them onto their winning path.
There were plenty more match-turning plays in his career – another highlight was in Round 8 in the then Intrust Super Cup against Souths Logan Magpies in 2017. Ipswich had travelled to Davies Park to take on a red-hot Magpies outfit. South Logan had scored 22 tries in their previous three weeks of games.
Nemani Valekapa was a late withdrawal for the Jets, meaning in came big Tu’u Maori for his first game that year.
Starting on the wing, he made his mark almost immediately, powering his way over the line after swatting away Magpies defenders to score the first of his two tries the Jets in his nine games of Cup for the side.
Mark Bishop was the coach of the successful 2015 BRL side and recalled his captain with fondness.
“Tu’u was a leader, other players at the Jets gravitated to him and that’s why I made him captain,” Bishop said.
“He had a great footy brain; he was big, powerful and always wanted to do the hard work.
“Tu’u was great to be around.
“(Unfortunately) he was injured a lot at the Jets, but he always came back, always had an impact and his time at the Jets was very successful.
“I was telling him I wanted him to be captain in 2015 and he asked why, I explained it to him and he nodded and said yes.
“He will always be a Jets premiership winning captain; we only have three across our club in 40 years and Tu’u Maori is one.”
Maori is survived by his partner, Sally, and his young family.
Friends and family have set up a memorial page to share memories and stories of Maori.