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How mum turned 'embarrassed' pool boy Tevaga into Dally M award winner

Jazz Tevaga jumps straight into the deep end when he returns from injury against the Gold Coast, with the Warriors' 4-8 start equalling their worst opening to season since the turn of the century.

But without the intervention of mum Melissa, the Dally M interchange player of 2018 might still be lugging concrete and constructing swimming pools.

Tevaga's recent ankle injury has coincided with back-to-back losses and the team's slide down the ladder to 13th.

Six years ago Tevaga figured his rugby league career had gone in the same direction, as he "carried bags of cement up and down to backyard pools, all day, every day" to make ends meet after school.

By this point the 17-year-old Christchurch product was " too embarrassed" to attend a Warriors open day trial.

"I was playing at nationals and I didn't crack it, no clubs came in with any sort of offer," Tevaga recalls.

"Footy didn't look like it was going to work out and I didn't have a back up plan.

"All I wanted to do was be a footy player and I didn't do too well in school either.

"When I was a young pup that wasn't a priority.

"I was working and saw that the Junior Warriors had an open trial. But my reaction was 'I don't want to go down, it's embarrassing'.

Titans v Warriors - Round 14

"All my mates had picked up contracts with the club to play in the under 20s. It was my mum who ended up twisting my arm, made me go have a crack.

"I was thinking I wasn't going to get a crack, I'd missed my shot and all my mates were already in and had made it. To be the one dude that didn't make it, that was embarrassing to me.

"It was a stupid way to think so I'm lucky my mum got into me, she said 'no, you're going', and got me down there.

"Stacey Jones (then the Warriors junior pathways coach) invited me to pre-season from that and the rest is history."

History has had its moments too.

The halfway mark: Try of the year

A stern word from coach Stephen Kearney in 2017 was needed to sharpen Tevaga's focus after six months in reserve grade, Ivan Cleary channelled when he asked Tevaga "do you want to be on the bus or not?'"

There was also a mid-season operation to remove a potentially cancerous growth on his back last year, the successful surgery prompted when a teammate spotted a lump on his shoulder on Anzac Day.

But Tevaga's rise in 2018 mirrored that of the Warriors. And a nod to his "junkyard dog" play as described by Kearney came on Dally M night.

A balls-and-all defensive approach has been the cornerstone of his game for as long as he can remember.

It's a decent selling point too as he and his management weigh up the 2020 Warriors contract option in his favour, with a decision due one way or the other before June 30.

"I've always figured defence is my forte, my go-to," Tevaga says.

"I try to be busy and always doing as much as I can because I'm not a big boy, it's not like I can use my size to carry the ball. I'll make all the tackles and they can run the ball.

"I've always been a fair bit smaller than the guys I played with and against growing up.

"I think I do get targeted a bit, big fellas want to run over me.

"But one thing they could never get me on was my heart and how hard I tried. That's probably a strength of mine."

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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