Family tragedy inspires Kalifa
In many ways it was fitting that Kalifa Faifai Loa's first NRL game following the sudden passing of his father last month was against the Eels.
As a boy growing up in New Zealand Jubie would take Kalifa and his little brother out at night to fish for eels "just for the fun of it".
Having laid his father to rest in Auckland Faifai Loa flew back to Australia and ran out for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup just hours after landing, with Sunday's clash against the Bulldogs his third NRL game in succession for the Titans since that day.
It's been a five-year journey and three clubs for the eccentric winger to chalk up 50 games in the NRL but when he runs out onto Central Coast Stadium Jubie will be foremost in his thoughts.
Your memories of a loved one after they are gone come of their own volition, whether they are slaps to the head or late-night fishing expeditions, and Faifai Loa said the passing of his father has given him a sharper focus back at the Titans.
"I have actually, been putting in more commitment to video sessions, just the little things at training, but I do think about him now and then," Faifai Loa told NRL.com when asked whether his father's death had affected his approach to football.
"He gave me heaps of hidings and without that I wouldn't be a man today. I never used to use my manners when I was young and every time I'd not use it, I'd get a slap to the head so thankful for that as well.
"When we were young we used to catch eels just for the fun of it. Me and my little brother used to go out late at night, even though I was scared of the dark. I only went because I shared the same room as my brother and if he left I was all alone in the room so I actually went with him just for that.
"Just as long as I'm playing I'm happy. Ever since I got back from the Parramatta game I just couldn't stop, I wanted to touch the ball and stuff like that, I was just happy."
Faifai Loa's five siblings are currently in the process of moving back in with their mother Julie in Auckland who the 25-year-old former Kiwi and Samoan international now rings once a week.
"I always ring my mum now and I never used to. I ring her once a week now to see what she's up to and if she's strong then I'll be strong with her as well," he says.
Faifai Loa has played just 12 games for the Titans over the past two years since making the move from the Cowboys but has been a consistently strong performer for Tweed Heads.
He was receiving high praise for his performances at the start of the season but only cracked the NRL team in Round 16 after adopting a team-first approach to his football.
"I was doing good but I wasn't doing team efforts I reckon," he said. "I was just doing individual stuff but I had a sit down with Rohan [Titans assistant coach Rohan Smith] who said to think more about the team.
"I decided to cut down my carries and focus on 'd' and do the team stuff for the boys and that actually helped me to play even better. Even though I used to do 20-plus carries, cutting them down to 15 was better. Halfway through the season with Tweed I was more about team efforts.
"They saw it in Q Cup which I did back in the Eels game, those little things like kick-chase and stuff and that's what they were looking for."
Unsure of where his future lies beyond 2015 when his contract at the Titans expires, Faifai Loa is hoping a six-week stint in the top grade will convince an NRL club to throw him a lifeline, whether that is on the Gold Coast or elsewhere.
"If they want me to stay I'll stay. If someone else wants me or something else comes up I'll go there," said Faifai Loa, who debuted for the Dragons in 2010.
"This week is my 50th so I'll be happy with that. That was my goal in 2011, to get to 50.
"I started off fast, I was on 24 in the first year and then ended up being slow but 50 is good. Next stop 100."
This story first appeared on nrl.com.au.