Kalifa Faifai Loa won’t be at Pizzey Park when Aquis Titans recruit Leivaha Pulu starts pre-season training in early November, having signed with the Dragons for next season.
But the 25-year-old Pulu will certainly spare good thoughts for him - recalling how the former Titans winger, a fellow student at Avondale College in Auckland, lured him to play rugby league for the first time at age 16.
Not only was ‘Fai’ the catalyst for Pulu starting in the sport but he was also the one who introduced Leivaha’s partner Lina to him in their school days.
They have been together ever since and have two children – daughter Carayanidis, 6, and son Amon James, 3.
“Yeah Kalifa was the one who got me to play at school and come down and join Marist Saints in Auckland [a noted junior club],” ‘Vaha’ recalled.
“I spoke to Kalifa about coming here and he really encouraged me.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity and want to do everything I can to play NRL.”
Pulu took to league well enough to attract the attention of Australia scouts and was put into Wests Tigers’ system via Keebra Park State High the following season, seeing him leaving home before he was 17.
He linked with Agnatius Paasi at Keebra Park in 2008, ‘Iggy’s first year there and Vaha’s second, before heading to the Tigers to play two seasons of under-20s.
From there he has played, as an aggressive prop or back-rower, with Penrith’s feeder team Windsor Wolves, had an off-season with French club Lezignan and for the past three seasons has played with Wyong Kangaroos who in 2015 became the feeder club to the Sydney Roosters.
He was a key player in their team that made the NSW Cup grand final last month but is still chasing his NRL debut.
Coach Neil Henry was made aware of his talents early this season by former recruitment manager Jamie Mathiou and has been signed to add depth to the NRL squad, although he knows he will most likely start in the Intrust Super Cup.
“This is an opportunity I want to make full use of,” he said.
“When I went to Penrith I was 125kg and took all the off-season to catch up with the other players and I have really learned from that and have really looked after myself with nutrition and diet the fitness the past couple of seasons. I’m around 110kg now.
“It’s great to be back on the Gold Coast and I’m looking forward to meeting the boys and getting into pre-season.”
Pulu’s Wyong team were second on the ladder but were beaten in the grand final 20-10 by Newcastle Knights, who powered home from seventh place.
Pictured: Leivaha Pulu and partner Lina after arriving on the Gold Coast.