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Road to Origin via Mount Smart Stadium

When he was just nine years old, Joe Ofahengaue used to be a regular sight around Mount Smart Stadium on game days or during the week,running around after his father Josh, who worked for the Vodafone Warriors as a cleaner.

That was back in 2005, which is where the photo comes in (the full story is below).

Now the little Auckland-born boy Joe is 23 and yesterday he was revealed as one of Queensland's debutants for next week's opening battle in this year's State of Origin series against New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium.

Almost five years ago, Ofahengaue was set to line up for the Junior Kangaroos against the Junior Kiwis, prompting this story to be published under the headline "A story behind the photo" on October 18, 2014:


As moments go in history, the image above captures the essence of one of the Vodafone Warriors' truly special days. More on that soon.

As it happens it also provides a nice back story to a player who will be centre stage in tonight’s one-off international between the Junior Kiwis and the Junior Kangaroos at Mount Smart Stadium (7.00pm kick-off).

It’s the story of a father – who’s in this photo – his son and their famous brother/uncle.

So look at the photo and go to the right end of what is effectively the middle row. There celebrating with everyone is winger Cooper Vuna alongside then-coach Tony Kemp. Next to him is heavyweight boxer Shane Cameron and next is … now who is that?

Here’s where the moment needs a quick explanation.

This photo was snapped on June 26, 2005, the day the Vodafone Warriors belatedly marked their 10th anniversary.

Resplendent in a replica jersey which was slavishly honest to the original worn against the Broncos on March 10, 1995, the Vodafone Warriors brought back the Pacific drummers, returned to run out of the tunnel and emerged through rows of flames. Better still they went on to do what the 1995 originals had been unable to do, putting on an outstanding display to beat the Wayne Bennett-coached Broncos 30-18. The day was also notable for an 18-year-old Simon Mannering making his NRL debut (he’s standing below Steve Price who missed the match with injury).

Staff were invited to be part of the celebratory dressing room photo, which is where the mystery man comes into the story again.

At the time he was employed as the club’s cleaner. His son, then aged nine, was often seen around the club, too. The subject here is Josh Ofahengaue and the son is Joe. The brother/uncle is Willie (Viliami) Ofahengaue – Willie O – the explosive loose forward who became a rugby union legend for the Wallabies after first representing New Zealand Secondary Schools.

Fast forward to Saturday, October 18 and the boy Joe is now 19, stands 187cm, weighs 112kg and will be out on the field at 7.00pm tonight. He was born in Auckland in the Vodafone Warriors’ foundation season but, like so many New Zealand-born players these days, he’s lining up for an Australian side.

That's because his dad Josh moved his family to Australia several years ago now where Joe found his way up the rugby league ladder with his junior club Brothers in Ipswich, earning an NYC contract with the Broncos this season.

He excelled, reeling off astonishing performances which saw him topping 200 metres a game a number of times, not least in the NYC grand final when he played a key hand in enabling the Broncos to stage their stunning comeback. Playing 64 minutes he carried the ball 228 metres from 21 runs. There that day watching on was his dad; the Vodafone Junior Warriors prevailed to win the premiership but Josh’s boy didn’t let anyone down.

And tonight he lines up for the Junior Kangaroos against New Zealand’s best at a place that was his childhood playground not too many years ago. No one will be prouder of him than the man who made it into that famous photo a little more than nine years ago.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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