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Manu inspiration helps schoolboy rugby star make switch to Titans

Caelys Putoko has been described as one of New Zealand's hottest rugby prospects, but the young gun has followed his heart in a shock move to boost the Titans.

Graduating from heralded union school Hamilton Boys High School as a talented New Zealand representative, the 18-year-old had been on the radar of a number of Super Rugby clubs after representing his country in the junior ranks; but instead of following a career in the 15-man game, he has moved to the Gold Coast to make the switch to league.

"In my junior years when I was in Grade 9 and 10, rugby was definitely the pathway to go but then things changed in the last three years. My life swayed towards rugby league and I fell in love with it," Putoko told

"My siblings and I were raised playing rugby league, but then we stopped and high school came… which was just union, union, union.

"It wasn’t until earlier this year when I was playing a few games for the local A Grade team at Tokoroa that proved it was the decider for me.

"I just love this game… it suits me and I feel like I could pursue a career out of this code.

"League has such a licence to be able to have one-on-one battles with your defender... it's so free-flowing and that's why I fell in love with it.

"I don't want to say it's better than union, but it definitely gives you more opportunities on the field. It's just a completely different sport and I like that."

Putoko is a former New Zealand Schoolboy star.
Putoko is a former New Zealand Schoolboy star. ©NZ Rugby

Joining the Gold Coast Titans for the next two seasons - initially on a train-and-trial deal in a bid to earn a spot in the NRL roster - Putoko's career progression across the ditch is one that was totally out of the blue.

"It was kind of weird... the Titans just popped up out of nowhere," he described.

"I didn't know what my mindset was, but I just felt like the Gold Coast was the place to go to. Something pulled me towards this offer here at the Titans and I thought why not... let's give it a crack.

"Looking at all the NZ boys that are coming over here, there's a whole heap of them - not just at the Titans, but everywhere. There is opportunities everywhere in rugby league and for us NZ boys, it's an eye-opener for all of us so we've got to take it.

"If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out... but you just have to give it a crack."

Whilst skilled in both rugby codes, the emerging outside back does admit he will have to work on his adaptation to league after spending his past few years primarily playing the 15-man game.

"There's tonnes of union habits I've got to grow out of still," Putoko joked.

"I've got to adapt to the fitness too. It's very continuous and you need plenty of endurance. It's hard and has its challenges, but I like it.

"The big goal is to try and get a top 30 or development spot, but if it doesn't, I'm happy to wait my turn and give it everything to earn a spot."

Putoko working hard in his second week of pre-season training at Parkwood.
Putoko working hard in his second week of pre-season training at Parkwood. ©Titans Media

Putoko is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Roosters and Kiwis star Joseph Manu, who also grew up in Tokoroa and is someone who the new Titan has idolised growing up.

"Joey is in the same position and has taken it to another level for our town," he said.

"Out of nowhere, he became this big star in the NRL.

"I remember watching him in Under 20s and he was going up the ranks with Latrell, but ever since he cracked first grade, he's really made his mark and we're really proud of him."

Acknowledgement of Country

Gold Coast Titans proudly acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are situated, the Kombumerri families of the Yugambeh Language Region. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and recognise their continuing connections to the lands, waters and their extended communities throughout South East Queensland.