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150kg to Tongan torpedo: Guru's 10-year interest in Murdoch-Masila

As Ben Murdoch-Masila belted anything that moved in a green and gold jumper at Eden Park, Peter O'Sullivan stood in the crowd "captivated", just as he had been over a decade earlier.

Murdoch-Masila is back in the NRL "when he never should've left" as a different beast this season.

The starring role in Tonga's historic 16-12 upset of Australia in November 2019 put him well and truly on rugby league radars down under.

The Warriors knew he was what they needed well before that day.

Analysing the Warriors' 2021 draw

Renowned recruitment manager O'Sullivan duly lined up a three-year deal to bring Murdoch-Masila home from Super League outfit Warrington, unsuccessfully trying to land an early release for last year on three separate occasions.

O'Sullivan's pursuit stretches back to the Tongan powerhouse's earliest days, when he went from a 150-kilo, 17-year-old mixing with the wrong types in Auckland, through Keebra Park and into a Wests Tigers semi-final debut within two years.

"I used to love watching him play as a kid," O'Sullivan told NRL.com.

"I'd travel the state wherever they were playing under 20s to watch him, he captivated me, the potential he had.

"That Test where Tonga beat Australia, I was in the crowd and it was just incredibly clear that he was what we were after.

"He came in and met us [Warriors hierarchy] at Mt Smart around then and it went from there.  

All in: Inside the Warriors' 2020 season

"It was clear that he'd worked out his approach to the game and his lifestyle with his wife and little girl and was a completely different player to his first time in the NRL.

"He certainly didn't work hard enough at getting his body right for NRL for a number of years. He had to go over to England to become a pro, which is a little unusual but that's the feedback from Warrington.

"He's taken the long way around but we're all looking forward to him getting back at that level."

Now 29, Murdoch-Masila's first NRL outing came in one of the most famous games since the turn of the century.

The Tongan international came off the bench in the Roosters-Wests Tigers semi-final epic of 2010, replacing then-Tigers prop, now Cowboys coach Todd Payten.

A couple of promising seasons at the Tigers coincided with fitness struggles before the tragic death of his best mate Mosese Fotuaika in 2013 rocked him, Murdoch-Masila being the last person to see his Tigers teammate before he took his life.

He had to go over to England to become a pro, which is a little unusual

Warriors recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan

A fresh start in the UK has proven Murdoch-Masila's making, first with Salford and then Warrington, finishing as a fan-favourite at the Rhinos with more than 40 tries from his 127-game Super League career.

Christmas Day was spent in quarantine in Sydney as he arrived for Warriors duty, joining his new teammates in Tamworth this week having figured a 2014 stint with Penrith would have been his last in the NRL.

"I never thought I would be back in the NRL," Murdoch-Masila told reporters this week.

"That's why I took [the Warriors opportunity] when it came. I said to myself that if it did come around I would take it straight away.

The Warriors' 2020 season in review

"In 2019 against Australia, I didn't expect to get anything from it. I was expecting to go back to the UK and maybe re-sign there. But as soon as [the offer] came through I had a good think about it with the family and made the right choice.

"I was born in New Zealand and what they did in 2020 was nothing short of extraordinary.

"That played a part in the decision making as well. And to be a part of this stuff, it gives you goosebumps and you want to be involved with them."

 

Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here