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Having trained at fullback all week, Gold Coast youngster Keano Kini instead got his first taste of NRL coming off the bench and playing hooker as his side held on to down the Eels at Magic Round.

With a surprise call-up to the side earlier in the week, Kini entered the game late in the match, taking over the dummy half role in the final stages of the game and had some key involvements – least of which being his support in the build-up to Brian Kelly's try which proved the difference despite Parramatta's late comeback.

While not in his favoured position, the highly rated youngster was grateful to be given the opportunity to get a taste of the top grade and couldn't wait to do again.

“It was pretty different, man, a lot of respect for the hookers,” Kini said.

“I didn't usually play hooker, but when I came on I was just trying to make my tackles. It was such a cool experience being in Magic Round. I loved it, hey. 

“There wasn't really a plan, we were going to see how Foz [Kieran Foran] was going but coach just told me to stay ready and then that's what I did. So when I went on at hooker, I just tried my best."

Magic comes early: Cameras capture Kini's debut call to Mum

Kini – who moved over from New Zealand two years ago – was also grateful for his family, many of whom braved a brief hailstorm and the Suncorp Stadium elements to watch his debut.

“I probably had about 30 or 40 (family members there), half of them flying over from New Zealand,” Kini said.

“It was so cool to have them at my jersey presentation. It made it feel special given all the sacrifices they’ve done for me, so it was awesome to play for them. 

“My mum and dad moved over here, not just for me for themselves as well, but they sacrificed so much to come here.”

Keano Kini is mobbed by teammates after his NRL debut at Magic Round.
Keano Kini is mobbed by teammates after his NRL debut at Magic Round. ©NRL Photos

Carving up the Hostplus Cup competition with the Burleigh prior to his NRL debut, there are a number of similarities between Kini and other talented outside backs at the Titans, including Alofiana Khan-Pereira — who was the leading try scorer while at the Bears – and Jayden Campbell, who like Kini, has come through first-grade playing an important utility role from the bench.

Kini said his time developing his game under the coaching of former Parramatta back Luke Burt had helped him prepare for his unexpected Magic Round debut.

“I wasn't expecting a debut this early. I might have to go down back down to Cup and ply my trade and just wait for my wait for my opportunity [to play NRL again] and take it when the opportunity comes,” Kini said.

“But playing with the Bears is awesome. The coaching staff there, Burty the head coach and the boys, they're so welcoming. They make you feel part of the club really well and I've been loving it. There's a good winning culture down there.”

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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