As the new man on the block, Aaron Pene couldn’t wait to start his first preseason with the Vodafone Warriors – so much so he reported in extra early.
Instead of beginning his preseason grind as scheduled on November 29, the 25-year-old former Melbourne Storm front rower was there when the first group of players assembled on November 8.
Work to do, people to meet.
“I’m excited to be here at a new club so I showed up on the first and second day and was there every day that week in the end,” said Pene.
“I wanted to take the chance to get to know everyone, the players, physios and other staff. It was good to get alongside them and establish relationships.
I wanted to take the chance to get to know everyone, the players, physios and other staffAaron Pene Vodafone Warriors prop
“I also wanted to do what I could to help some of the younger players. I thought I might be able to add some value.”
After being surrounded by nothing but familiarity in his three seasons in the Melbourne system, Pene’s now in an all-new set-up with no tangible previous knowledge of his teammates and staff.
The only contact he has had was going head-to-head against the Vodafone Warriors in Melbourne’s round 14 victory at Central Coast Stadium in June; he also came up against some of his future teammates when he lined up for the Brisbane Tigers in their Intrust Super Cup contest against the Redcliffe Dolphins in May.
What he lacks in connection he over-compensates with the winning DNA he brings to his new home from the NRL’s benchmark club.
While his debut was a losing one in an understrength Melbourne side just before the finals last year, his nine outings this year all delivered wins during the Storm’s outstanding unbeaten streak.
“Being at the Storm brought out the best in me,” said Pene.
“I was quite reserved when I first joined the club. Everyone had been there for such a long time but I was lucky to be able to learn to play the game off those guys. It was a great opportunity. Nelson Asofa-Solomona especially helped me with a lot of stuff.
“Now I’m really looking forward to bringing a lot of that over with me. I look at the players we have and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be a top four side at least. It’s all about doing the little things right.”
Across his 10 NRL appearances so far – all off the interchange – Pene has averaged 33 minutes, 86 metres and 18 tackles a game. Whether that’s his role again with the Vodafone Warriors is yet to be determined but his approach is one of “doing whatever’s best for the team.”
What he will miss in 2022 is living in New Zealand as the Vodafone Warriors prepare for their third straight Covid-affected campaign based in Australia, this time at their new base in Redcliffe.
“I was all prepared to make the move over the ditch. I was really looking forward to it but (with the way things are) we just have to roll with the punches. There’s nothing we can do about it. I just hope it all works out for us to play games in Auckland. It’ll be huge.”
Pene’s route to an NRL career has been circuitous.
Of Samoan heritage through his father - who was brought up in New Zealand's capital Wellington - the Auburn-born Berala Bears junior was first picked up by the Bulldogs and played under-20s for them before spending two years with the Parramatta Eels where he was used as a winger-middle forward at under-20 and New South Wales Cup level.
A move to the Penrith Panthers saw him consigned to playing park football while injury put paid to a train and trial contract with Newtown. He’d been working various jobs when he decided to head north to Intrust Super Cup battlers the Central Queensland Capras in 2019 for what was effectively one last shot to break through.
It would be a decision which saved his career.
Despite playing for the bottom-placed Capras, Pene made a real impact attracting interest from and ultimately a contract with the Storm.
That also led to the next big career moment, the catalyst for signing with the Vodafone Warriors.
Playing for the Storm-aligned Brisbane Tigers in their seventh-round match against Redcliffe in May this year, Pene was a standout in his side’s 12-14 loss making 181 metres and 24 tackles. Then-Vodafone Warriors recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan spoke to Pene after the game and had a contract offer tabled soon after. Next thing Pene was Vodafone Warriors-bound for two seasons, making Redcliffe his temporary home before setting up in Auckland for the 2023 season.