'Vaha': I thought of walking away
Three years ago with the pressures of a young family mounting, Leivaha Pulu went home to the Central Coast after a long day working in traffic control in Sydney and told his long-time partner Lina that he was going to quit rugby league.
A Keebra Park graduate who spent two years in the Wests Tigers' under-20s system, Pulu was seeing the years slipping away as he chased his dream of playing in the NRL before finally thinking that enough was enough.
Little wonder then that on Tuesday when 'Vaha' walked through the front door of their home on the Gold Coast to tell Lina that he had been chosen by Neil Henry to make his NRL debut for the Titans this Sunday against the Knights at Cbus Super Stadium that she burst into tears.
It is a reward for persistence as much as it is an endorsement for the importance of a strong support network and as the day of his debut draws nearer, the 25-year-old reflected on the day he almost walked away.
"Words can't really explain the feeling," Pulu said of his selection for Round 1. "She started crying because she has seen me struggle.
"I've been blessed having her by my side. I feel like everything happens for a reason and I feel that she was put by my side for a reason and there wasn't one time where she said to go out and work.
"One time I just said to her, 'Babe, I can't do it anymore. I don't want to play footy.' She knew in my heart that I wanted to play NRL and she said, 'Keep going, keep going. It doesn't matter what happens just keep going.'
"It was just the pressures of being a young father and seeing your kids going through the struggle and that.
"It was paying the bills and getting us by but she knew I wasn't happy, waking up in the morning doing the hard yards. She knew I wanted to play footy.
"All you want is what's best for your kids and being a footy player it's a bit hard sometimes, especially if you're not up in first grade.
"The struggle is real and I was getting an income so I thought the best thing would be to stick with that but I was lucky enough that my partner told me to snap out of it and keep going."
A member of the Wyong Kangaroos team that went down to the Knights in last year's NSW Cup grand final, two years ago Pulu spent a pre-season with the Sydney Roosters and got a taste for what the NRL is all about.
"There were a lot of experienced players there that I learnt from and just the confidence that came from that," said Pulu.
"You know that the Roosters pack is one of the best packs in the competition and if you can keep up with them, you can keep up with anyone.
"Every training session that I went into I gave it my all. I went in there thinking that the NRL was the next street over and I could be playing NRL that year so every training session I went to I gave it 110 per cent.
"I'm mentally ready now. I've been through a lot and I know what I want and my confidence level is higher than what it usually is.
"I'm mentally ready for NRL."
While an NRL debut is a significant achievement that Pulu can tick off his list of goals, it represents the starting point for his next one which is to become an NRL regular.
The Titans coaching staff know that while there may be errors in his game there is also unquestionable effort and intent and he is determined to use this first step as a way to provide for Lina and their two children, daughter Carayanidis and son Amon James.
"That's one of the goals that I've set myself. To make my debut, I can't explain the feeling but it's making me even more hungry to play more games," said Pulu, who is in the first of a two-year deal with the Titans.
"I know that the more games I play the more doors will open for my future and my family's future."
This story first appeared on nrl.com.au