Fonua Ready To Repay The Faith
The word 'culture' is often thrown around as being the crucial ingredient that drives success at many professional sporting clubs in Australia.
So when Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary dropped cult hero Mahe Fonua for being late to training last week – despite a man of the match performance the week prior – he was sending a strong reminder that the values he has established at the joint venture will not be compromised, regardless of form.
But putting aside a week of perceived off-field turmoil to star in the Magpies' 18-10 win over the Intrust Super Premiership Penrith Panthers, the powerful centre maintained a positive outlook on his omission from the NRL team in Round 11.
"We're trying to build a strong culture at the club and with that I had to buy in [when I arrived] to make the coaches proud," Fonua told NSWRL.com.au.
"Hopefully I can continue to do that."
And there'd be no doubts that he made plenty proud at the Wests Tigers, given his strong showing at North Sydney Oval against the Panthers.
Determined to make amends for his training mishap, Fonua churned out 133 metres and recorded five tackle-breaks in the eight-point win.
Magpies coach Brett Hodgson was quick to praise the rampaging outside back for his professional approach to training throughout the week.
"He's been great all week, there was obviously an issue where people know why he came back but ever since day one he's respected what he had to do down at this level to get an NRL start and this week was no different," Hodgson said.
"He'll be in the mix for the NRL next week I'm sure."
The club culture instilled by Cleary, and enforced by his staffers, has been a key reason as to why the Wests Tigers started their 2018 NRL season with five wins in their first six matches – a run which included back-to-back victories against the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm to start their campaign.
The Wests Tigers boast one of the best defensive records in the NRL, while the Magpies are ranked first in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW for points conceded.
They've leaked just 10 points in their last two outings.
Joining the Wests Tigers after two years at Hull F.C in the European Super League, it didn't take long for Fonua to take in the messages of defence, first delivered in the searing heat of the pre-season.
"Defence is a focus because if you score 30 points and the other team scores 28, you know there are probably some negatives you can take out of that," he said.
"But whether we score six points and the other team scores none you can take more out of that, defensively.
"At our club in both grades we try and build a good culture in defence and we just work off that."
It's been no secret that Cleary has been looking to use his entire first grade squad over the course of the 2018 NRL season, and with a vast array of outside backs vying for selection every week, it only adds to a healthy competition among the playing group.
Knocking on the door of first grade selection once again as the Wests Tigers take on the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs this weekend, Fonua embraces the challenge ahead and is hopeful he can earn his place back in the club's best 17.
"Mainly for me I just want try and build up that fitness so when it comes to crunch time, I'm ready to perform, whether it's here in (Intrust Super Premiership NSW), or in the NRL," he said.
I was just want to play consistent footy so the coaches have faith in me [but] there's some great outside backs in our team so for us each week someone does have to miss out.
"But that's probably the joy of our team in having that depth there and it just goes back to building a good culture."