Josh Ofahengaue, the father of Maroons debutant Joe Ofahengaue, has detailed how his son made an emotional call to him on winning selection in the Queensland side, where he vowed to "put our family name Ofahengaue back on the map again".
Josh is the brother of 1991 World Cup-winning Wallaby star Willie Ofahengaue who was one of rugby union's most feared forwards in the 1990s.
When Joe Ofahengaue moved to Australia with his family from New Zealand when he was eight years old, his uncle's fame and the Ofahengaue name was front and centre of the sporting landscape.
Joe has done plenty to keep it there as a Broncos powerhouse and Tongan international but playing for the Maroons, his childhood dream, will make his family name part of sport's greatest rivalry.
After being part of the Broncos' 8-2 win over the Warriors the 23-year-old was in New Zealand when Kevin Walters informed him of his selection on the bench for game one of the Holden State of Origin series at Suncorp Stadium on June 5. He was quick to get on the phone to his father with the good news.
"My son rang me last night from New Zealand and he was crying. He said 'I am going to put our Ofahengaue family name on the map again'," Josh told NRL.com.
"When we first came to Australia we didn't realise how famous the Ofahengaue name was, because Willie O put our name on top throughout the world through rugby. What Joe was saying to me was that he wants to make me proud because he knows that back on our small island your identity is your last name.
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Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
"Because our island is so proud of what Willie O achieved. Joe wants to now do that through rugby league and through playing for Queensland in Origin."
Josh's ancestors in Tonga previously had the surname of 'Kata' before it was changed to 'Ofahengaue', a moment of deep significance to the family.
"Ofahengaue means 'love to work' but our original last name was Kata, which means 'laugh'," Josh explained.
"My grandfather, who was named Saia, helped build a church in our village back in Tonga which was across the road from a school. In his young days, instead of going out and playing footy, he would help the builders with the church. Because he had dedicated himself to building the church the priest sat him down and said 'Saia, we want to honour you with the name Ofahengaue because of your love of work'. So Ofahengaue was a given name from a priest in our local church."
Josh sent NRL.com a photo of Joe celebrating his 21st birthday in traditional Tongan garb known as the Ta'ovala, made from the leaves of a pandanus plant. He was also wearing a Kafa, braided rope made from the inner fiber of the coconut husk that ties the Ta'ovala.
Josh said it was a sign of his son's deep connection to his Tongan roots that Joe has played six Tests for Tonga, a decision that Josh supported fully. The other side of the story is that Joe grew up playing rugby league for Ipswich Brothers and represented Queensland at age level before playing for the Queensland under 20s and Junior Kangaroos. Josh said his son's time spent with Tonga was of immense value.
"Island life is based on families and religion and because my kids were raised here in a European lifestyle I wanted Joe to experience the Tongan lifestyle, which he did," Josh said.
"I wanted him to do that early in his career because he is a real family man and a loving person. When he came back from Tongan camp I asked him what he took out of it and he said 'God and family'. That was the answer I wanted and I said to him that now he understood his background and our family's values that I wanted him to move on from there.
"Being a Queenslander means a lot to him too. I have always supported him playing for Queensland. Joe grew up playing for Queensland and his decision has my complete blessing."
Josh said Joe would approach his Maroons debut the way he does every game of football, with joy in his heart.
"I used to play for Tonga and our old captain was Mark Royal. He was running an under-eight team in New Zealand when Joe was seven years old and he asked if Joe would like to play," Josh recalled.
"Joe had never played before and I gave him a ball and said 'son, you go out there and beat them'. This big smile that came on his face was something I can hardly describe now. It was a like a boy who has just been rewarded with something special.
"Ever since then every time Joe goes to play a game, no matter who it is for, he puts on this big smile that says 'I can't wait to play footy with my friends'."
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