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Bolt from the blue: Warrior Eliesa Katoa's stunning rise

He is yet to play a single competitive rugby league match against adult opposition, and now Eliesa Katoa is in line to become one of the biggest selection bolters in Warriors history if he makes his NRL debut against the Knights on Saturday.

The 20-year-old has been listed on the interchange in coach Stephen Kearney's initial 21-man squad for the trip to McDonald Jones Stadium, despite having played just 11 Jersey Flegg Cup games so far in his career.

Born and raised in Tonga up until the age of 17, Katoa hadn't played rugby league prior to making his Jersey Flegg debut for the Auckland-based club in round 12 last season.

Ahead of being named this week he openly admitted knowing next to nothing about the 13-man game at this time last year.

"I never imagined in my life I'd be playing league," Katoa told

"When you grow up on the island [Tonga] you don't really know much league, all you are doing there is playing rugby union.

"I never played league, I didn't know the rules or how to play it.

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"But the club offered me a contract out of school which I knew would help my family, and that is why I am here.

"Obviously I will be nervous because I have never played before.

"But I think I will be ready for it… I'm doing every little thing that I can do to make myself a better player.

"In my mind I know I have done the work, so I am ready."

A powerfully built second-rower standing 193cm tall, Katoa was offered a rugby union scholarship with Auckland's Tamaki College in 2017 after being spotted while touring New Zealand with a Tonga U16 union side the previous year.

He turned down offers to stay in union in favour of joining the Warriors on a development contract at the start of 2019, and this year was elevated into the club's top 30 squad as a full-time player.  

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The second youngest of four kids and the only member of his immediate family living away from Tonga, Katoa said he is motivated by the chance to provide for those back home and honour the memory of his father, who passed away in 2012.

"One of the goals in coming here is to make money for family back on the island," he told

"I talk to mum on the phone almost every day.

"I told her 'I have to go [to New Zealand] so I can help you'.

"She's always happy I am here and that's what motivated me to come here and help them, especially after my dad passed away, because my mum doesn't have a job.

"I am always sending money home. I don't really need that much money here, so whatever they need I tell them to tell me."

Katoa was used as both a starting and interchange forward in trial losses to the Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers.

Experienced back-rower Leivaha Pulu said he's shown huge improvement since last year.  

"Eliesa has come a long way from when he started… he's picked up so much that it wouldn't be a surprise he's debuting in round one," Pulu said.

"He is a kid who really likes to learn and when you are like that you are putting your hand up right away.

"For a young fella he has a pretty mature head. He's always going to the coach's office to talk, asking players questions, doing his recovery.

"He has a big future and I am really excited to see what he has got in 2020."

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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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