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Fa'asuamaleaui's mission to be a confident Maroons leader

When Billy Slater’s number flashed up on Tino Fa'asuamaleaui’s phone screen on Sunday night, he felt instant relief.

Slater was ringing to inform the Gold Coast Titans skipper that he was in the Queensland Maroons side for Game I of the 2022 State of Origin series.

“I got the call and had the biggest smile on my face,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

For critics and fans alike, it was no shock - the towering forward was a lock for this year’s series.

But just 48 hours before Maroons coach Slater started making calls to his first Origin side, a devastated but frank Fa'asuamaleaui made the admission that he did not think he was playing well enough to warrant a place in the team.

He first fronted a press conference after the Gold Coast’s disappointing 35-24 loss to the Brisbane Broncos, telling the media that he had let his team down. Then in follow up interviews, he claimed he would be “surprised” if he donned a Maroons jersey in Game I.

Fa'asuamaleaui was surprised but relieved to make this year's Queensland Origin team. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Fa'asuamaleaui was surprised but relieved to make this year's Queensland Origin team. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

Reflecting on his post-match comments, Fa'asuamaleaui said the admission was not made from emotion, but a genuine thought he’d been having.

“It was legit, me thinking I wouldn’t be here in camp,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

“I was surprised when I first got the call because I thought I wasn’t playing good enough footy and obviously losing at club land doesn’t help. But I’m happy I’m here.”

Despite his own concerns, Fa'asuamaleaui has been a standout for his NRL club this year, running for more than 200 metres in the first half alone in his side’s loss to the Broncos. He is also a Maroons incumbent, having started in the past six Origin matches since his debut in 2020.

Slater was never concerned about the 22-year-old’s ability, stating Fa'asuamaleaui is “too hard on himself”.

Fa'asuamaleaui on day one of Queensland Maroons camp. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Fa'asuamaleaui on day one of Queensland Maroons camp. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

“He cares... Tino cares,” Slater said.

“I spent some time with him down in Melbourne when he was coming through to become a first grader. He cares about his footy, it’s important to him and you can see that... he expresses it.

“He probably is a little bit too hard on himself because he’s focusing on the results. But we need Tino to focus on his actions and what he brings to the team.”

Slater delivered this same message to Fa'asuamaleaui during Sunday’s phone call, affirming he deserved to be in the side.

And now for Fa'asuamaleaui it’s not just about believing in himself, but bringing that confidence to the Origin arena in Wednesday’s series opener in Sydney.

“Billy said I had to back myself and know I deserve to be in this team,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

“Sometimes it can be hard but the boys around me here – Billy, (Cameron) Smithy, Johnno (Thurston) – they give me the confidence to come in and do a job for Queensland. I have to be confident, I have to make sure I am once I get on the field.”

Fa'asuamaleaui in pre-season training with the Titans.
Fa'asuamaleaui in pre-season training with the Titans.

He said while things are not exactly going to plan with the Titans at this stage of the season, there was still plenty he took from his 2022 experience so far to bring into Maroons camp.

In particular, Fa'asuamaleaui is hoping his promotion to captain of the Titans this year will help him start to find a louder voice within the Queensland team.

He has also been tipped to be a future Queensland captain by commentators, with Slater also labelling him a Maroons leader in Monday’s team announcement press conference.

“Having that knowledge and experience as a leader, I know that I shouldn’t be afraid to say something and really back myself and have a voice,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

“That’s something I’ve learnt being a captain at the Titans and something I’m going to do here. But also leading with my actions. That’s the captain I want to be and coming here, I want to do the same.”

Fa'asuamaleaui and Josh Papalii working together at training on Tuesday. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Fa'asuamaleaui and Josh Papalii working together at training on Tuesday. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

Fa'asuamaleaui said he took a lot of inspiration from the players around him in the Maroons camp, especially fellow front rower Josh Papalii.

But one of his biggest influences is without a doubt Slater.

Fa'asuamaleaui first met the Queensland great after signing with the Melbourne Storm in 2017. While they never had the chance to play together in the NRL, Slater has developed into a mentor for Fa'asuamaleaui, not just on the field, but off it as well.

As he looks to develop his confidence, one thing he can count on is Slater will remain firmly in his corner, showing him just how to develop that self-belief.

“Billy’s done so much for me,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

“He’s done a lot, especially when I went down there (to Melbourne), with the little things I need to do in my game. Even now he shows me video and gives me advice on what I need to do.

“He helps me be a better man and being a good person away from footy is what’s helped me a lot. It’s why I respect him so much.

“He teaches me to respect everyone, that’s the first thing.

“But also away from footy, it’s about holding your head up tall and really having confidence in yourself.

“Even away from footy you think that you don’t need to be confident but being that person and backing yourself even away from footy is something he’s been giving me advice on.”

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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