David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Family first for Bunty Afoa

Bunty Afoa of the Warriors runs in a try during the NRL Trial Match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans. Photo / Getty Images.
Bunty Afoa of the Warriors runs in a try during the NRL Trial Match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans. Photo / Getty Images.

Two weeks after making his NRL debut, Warriors youngster Bunty Afoa wants to talk about one thing and it's not football.

Family plays a big and important part in any young player's career but for the 19-year-old Auckland-born Samoan it means everything.

Playing in the NRL is a dream come true for the former St Paul's College star but Afoa's ambitions are driven by a desire to repay his loved ones for their years of unwavering support.

When coach Andrew McFadden called on match eve to let him know he was joining the forwards bench rotation for the Warriors last-start win over the Gold Coast, Afoa knew what it would mean to his family but kept the news to himself initially.

"I just had a moment to myself and I didn't tell mum and dad until the next day," said Afoa.

"When I told them they got a bit emotional. They came to present me with my jersey and it was a magical moment because that's all your hard work right there.

"When we were about to kick-off, I looked up in the crowd and they were all sitting in the upper stand, happy and smiling.

"That was one of the best moments, to see them smile and be proud of me, and I felt proud too at the same time."

In an accomplished 35 minute stint playing on the right edge, the 2015 NYC Player of the Year looked right at home against the Titans, making six runs for 50 metres and getting through 24 tackles with no misses.

His performance earned him high praise and the respect of his teammates and McFadden saw enough to keep him in his line-up for today's clash against Manly in Perth.

"Cappy told me I was going to play again and I'm going to put the pedal down and just go hard," he said.

"He wants me to play a little bit of back-row to have a few options in me instead of just being in the middle.

"I'll give it everything I've got because there are a lot of players that deserve to play so I've just got to take my opportunities when I have them."

Growing up in Avondale, nothing came easy for the Pt Chevalier and Bay Roskill junior.

Having watched his parents work and struggle to provide everything he needed along his journey into first grade, Afoa is determined to help lighten the load around the family home he still shares with his brothers and sisters.

Recently re-signed on a three-year deal that will keep him at the Warriors through to the end of 2019, Afoa is pleased to be in a position to contribute.

"It was a struggle coming up and now all I want to do is give back to my parents because they made a lot of sacrifices and put in a lot of hard work.

"To see them working hard and having gone through a lot of pain, you just want to take all of that away from them. I'll do whatever it takes to get there."

Fellow forward Albert Vete acknowledged Afoa's work ethic having watched his progression and development over the last two seasons.

"He deserves everything he gets, Bunty," said Vete. "He's such a humble kid.

"The last couple of years (training) with the first graders has matured him and he's definitely finding his feet.

"Just like any of the other Pacific Island boys, they're from pretty humble families and from families with not much. So for him to be able to start giving back, I'm pretty stoked for him."

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