Sonny Bill Williams (inset) is an inspiration for Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
Sonny Bill Williams (inset) is an inspiration for Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

New recruit Tino Fa’asuamaleaui dreams of being Titans’ SBW

QUEENSLAND young gun Tino Fa'asuamaleaui has revealed his dream to be as successful as Sonny Bill Williams and outlined his plan to help the Titans become a premiership force.

In his first interview since his shock decision to quit the Storm, the Gympie product says the influence of Titans culture chief Mal Meninga, who travelled to his hometown for talks, convinced him to defect to the Gold Coast.

The Titans are taking a huge gamble with Fa'asuamaleaui.

Just days before Origin star Jai Arrow rocked the Titans by signing with Souths last Christmas, Meninga tabled a mega three-year, $2 million contract for a teenager who has played just five first-grade games.

And the hulking 19-year-old is taking a risk of his own. Many NRL fans would think he has lost his marbles.

Why would a rookie highly regarded by Storm super coach Craig Bellamy walk out on the most successful NRL club of the past decade to chase success at a Titans outfit reeling from last year's wooden spoon disaster?

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui looks on during a Melbourne Storm training session at UWA Sports Park in Perth. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui looks on during a Melbourne Storm training session at UWA Sports Park in Perth. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images

But just like fellow Queenslander Kalyn Ponga, who quit 2015 premiers the Cowboys to join the battling Knights, Fa'asuamaleaui is prepared to back himself. Naturally, a seven-figure contract is a fair sweetener.

Fa'asuamaleaui lauds his apprenticeship at the Storm, but says he can strike a better balance between family and football in Queensland as he looks to inject a Melbourne-like mentality to the Titans.

"I've been very fortunate to be at the Melbourne Storm. I have learnt so much here, I've had three years here and I can't imagine a better club to learn the qualities you need to be a consistent NRL player," said Fa'asuamaleaui, who will join the Titans next year.

"It will be really hard to leave. It took a long time for me to make up my mind, but in the end going home to Queensland was a huge thing.

"My partner and I had our first child last year so I guess we are young parents. We lack that family in support in Melbourne. It will help us being back in Queensland around my family.

"I still have another year in Melbourne so it's important I don't drop my standards this year. I want to have a big year to give back to the Storm for everything they have done and show the Titans what I am capable of."

Faasuamaleaui makes a strong charge into the Tigers' defence for the Sunshine Coast Falcons during finals last year.
Faasuamaleaui makes a strong charge into the Tigers' defence for the Sunshine Coast Falcons during finals last year.

The Titans' financial outlay for Fa'asuamaleaui might have raised raise eyebrows, but it could prove to be money well spent.

When Brisbane signed his former Broncos under-20s teammate Payne Haas to a six-year, $3 million deal 18 months ago, it seemed preposterous. Now the freakish Haas is a State of Origin player and the code's hottest front-row property.

The trick is nailing your scouting and talent identification and the Titans are confident they have made a smart investment in Fa'asuamaleaui.

His selection in Queensland under-18s and under-20s sides is evidence Maroons coach Kevin Walters views him as a future Origin player.

At 195cm and 113kg, he has been likened to Sonny Bill with his physical dimensions, hard-running and ability to use the ball on the edges.

When Fa'asuamaleaui references SBW, he does so without a hint of arrogance.

The humble rookie is in awe of SBW's achievements in rugby league, but hopes to eventually match his standards of performance and professionalism.

Fa’asuamaleaui carries a teammate during Storm pre-season in 2017. Picture: Jonathan Demos
Fa’asuamaleaui carries a teammate during Storm pre-season in 2017. Picture: Jonathan Demos

"Hopefully one day I can be like Sonny Bill Williams," he said.

"I'm a long, long way from Sonny Bill, but he was my favourite player growing up.

"He was just on another level. He had the skill of a five-eighth and the hard running of a forward.

"I've always wanted to be like Sonny Bill and I'm trying to bring his strengths to my game. I know I am miles away from what he has achieved, but in time I'd like to get to his standard."

Having cut his teeth with the Storm's feeder-club Sunshine Coast in the Intrust Super Cup, Fa'asuamaleaui got his big break last season when he made his NRL debut against the Dragons during the grind of the Origin period.

It was Bellamy's signal that he had big plans for the explosive back-rower or prop. Tino was lapping up the Storm culture. He had no plans to go anywhere.

Mal Meninga travelled to Gympie to pitch the Titans to Fa’asuamaleaui. Picture: Jerad Williams
Mal Meninga travelled to Gympie to pitch the Titans to Fa’asuamaleaui. Picture: Jerad Williams

Then, last November, the Titans made inquiries with his manager.

They talked numbers in excess of $650,000 a season. Fa'asuamaleaui was stunned.

The Coast, set to lose Arrow, were so determined to get their man, Meninga headed to Gympie for his Titans pitch.

"I was a bit surprised the Titans came into it. I was really happy in Melbourne and didn't think anyone else was really watching me," he said.

"I've mentioned my family, but Mal Meninga was another big reason for signing.

"During the holidays, Mal came up to see me in Gympie twice. We had some good talks about his vision for the club and how I fitted in. Mal is one of the big reasons why I want to be at the Titans. I want to learn stuff from him and be a better footballer.

 

"I know the Titans are struggling but I want to be a part of something special and help the culture of the club.

"I would love to be part of a winning mentality there. Growing up, I always played with underdog teams. I would love to show that no matter who you play for, you can impress."

Fa'asuamaleaui admits he was terrified when he approached Bellamy to deliver the bad news.

"Telling 'Bellyache' I was leaving was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my career," he said.

"I have always looked up to him and he has always been there for me as a coach on and off the field. When my daughter was born, he was a great support.

"He understood my reasons why I was leaving. It put my at ease because I was a bit emotional. He took it well, which is a credit to him.

"It's just hard work in Melbourne. The culture of the Storm is all about accountability and effort. No matter what we do, we give 100 per cent and Bellyache drives that.

"I know I haven't proven myself in the NRL but I've been given a great apprenticeship. I want to take that Storm mentality and bring it to the Titans."

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