League: Warriors reject who battled back

By Michael Brown

Frank-Paul Nuuausala tries on the Kiwis jersey. Photo / Getty Images
Frank-Paul Nuuausala tries on the Kiwis jersey. Photo / Getty Images

Frank-Paul Nuuausala remembers it well. It was the end of 2005 and he was called into Ivan Cleary's office.

He was an 18-year-old from the mean streets of Mangere and Otara but had been on the Warriors books since he was 14. He had often been described as the next Ali Lauitiiti so a life as a successful first-grader, he assumed, was certain.

Cleary didn't think so. He was taking over as Warriors coach in 2006 and he needed to make some decisions. This one wasn't difficult.

"I remember Ivan took me in the room and said I was never going to make it because I didn't know what hard work was," Nuuausala says.

"'You have all the talent in the world but you don't know what hard work is'. That has stuck in my head ever since I left the Warriors. That's part of my motivation. I need to thank Ivan for it. It opened my eyes.

"I was going to give up footy [after that]. I was hanging around people ... I don't like talking about it. I was probably going to be a bum. Start drugs.

Drift away.

"I grew up in a rough neighbourhood. I took things for granted and thought I was going to stroll in and become a first-grader without having to work hard."

Nuuausala weighed 109kg when he was on the cusp of the Warriors' first-grade squad but it ballooned out to an unmanageable 120kg by the end of 2005. Something had to give, and it wasn't the Warriors.

It has been a remarkable transition for Nuuausala. Now 22, he's trimmed down to 105kg and has just come off a season where he played all 24 games for the Roosters.

By the end, he was commanding a starting place and it helped convince the Kiwis selectors he was worthy of a spot in their 23-man squad for the upcoming Four Nations. He will do well to oust any one of Fuifui Moimoi, Adam Blair and Jeff Lima from the propping rotation but that's the goal.

"I never thought I would make the Kiwis," he says. "This year I just wanted to play first grade every week and make the starting team."

It was the guidance of veteran second-rower Craig Fitzgibbon that made that possible.

Even after Cleary's brutal assessment, Nuuausala did little to turn things around. He went back to high school before Ricky Stuart signed him to the Roosters.

Even then he meandered along in the under-20s and premier league. He was homesick but used this as an excuse.

"I just cruised through again," he says. "I was in the comfort zone. I thought I had already made it. That was until the last two years and I realised how Fitzy works. I saw how he trains, how he eats and how professional he is.

I just needed someone to steer me in the right direction.

"He really helped me along. He put me under his wing and I have really knuckled down. I call him like my older brother. He's my inspiration. I have a lot to thank him for."

Perhaps the biggest advice came in the kitchen. Fitzgibbon advised him on how to eat properly and would often turn up at training with a new recipe for Nuuausala to try.

His favourite, he says, was chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto stuffed with spinach and feta. It was quite different to the island food - "mum's cooking" - he had been used to.

"At training, Fitzy would say, 'Frankie, you need to try this [recipe]'. I would try it and text him to tell him if it was good or bad. '

The 32-year-old Fitzgibbon is joining Hull FC next year and won't be around to hold Nuuausala's hand.

The apprentice still has the potential for his weight to become an issue again but he would do well to remember what it felt like to carry a few extra kilos and be beaten in pre-season training runs by middle-aged club staff.

"I am my own man now," Nuuausala says confidently. "Fitzy taught me everything I need to know. It will be harder with him gone but I can still talk to him.

"I reckon Australia was the best thing for me. To get away fromit all."

Cleary would probably agree.

- Herald on Sunday

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