Remarkable rise: Tino’s fast path to NRL finals
After enjoying a monster season for Melbourne Storm, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui says he "can't wait" to rip into his first finals series in the NRL.
The 20-year-old former Sunshine Coast Falcon only debuted and played five games for Melbourne last year but will enter October's finals with an impressive 19 caps to his name from the 2020 campaign.
He's being rested in the last Round 20 fixture against Dragons this week, but is itching to hit the field for Storm's run through the finals soon after.
"I'm excited, it's going to be my first finals series obviously and I can't wait to get out there," he said.
"I'm looking to get the body back feeling fresh again this week and then get ready for the finals series.
"There's going to be some big games so I've got to get everything ready and be big and strong to go."
The looming finals series continues a remarkable rise through the ranks for Fa'asuamaleaui, who has been on the NRL's radar since he was just 12 years old.
HOW TINO BECAME A NRL HEAVY HITTER AHEAD OF FINALS
Living in Widgee, he first laced-up in the sport for the Gympie Devils in Under-9s.
He was quick to get noticed, joining the Broncos development programs after impressing a scout during the U12 Australian primary schoolboys' championships in 2012.
Fa'asuamaleaui continued to hone his craft with the Devils through the Sunshine Coast junior pathways in the following years.
"When I first started it was (competition) just between all the Gympie kids and we versed each other but then as I got a bit older in U13s or U14s, that's when we versed Kawana and Caloundra and all the Coast teams which was very good," Fa'asuamaleaui said.
"I used to play here (Bokarina fields) which is pretty crazy."
He first threw on a Falcons jersey when he was 13 in a junior Central Division carnival.
He again represented his state in 2015, lacing up in the U15 Queensland side at the Australian Secondary Schools Rugby League Championships.
His Maroons ties strengthened even more after playing for the Queensland Under 16s in 2016, the U18s in 2017 and 2018 and the state's U20 outfit last year.
In 2016 he represented the region as part of the Central Crows in the Cyril Connell Cup.
"Then I got the opportunity to play some Falcons games and move to the U20 Storm when I was 17," he said.
He started 2017 in the black and gold Falcons jersey in the Mal Meninga Cup before joining Melbourne's U20 Thunderbolts in the National Youth Championships.
The Thunderbolts trained and were based at Sunshine Coast Stadium in 2016 and 2017.
Fa'asuamaleaui debuted for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup in 2018, playing two games that year before joining Easts Tigers for the remainder of the season.
That same year he debuted for the junior Australian Kangaroos.
He returned to play 14 games for the Falcons in 2019 in what was another big year for the heavy hitter.
He not only debuted for Storm, playing five games, but was selected in the Australian Prime Minister's XIII, Samoa's Nines side, the Australian Under-23s and then debuted for Samoa's Test side Toa Samoa.
He signed a three-year deal with Gold Coast Titans late last year, understood to be worth a little under $2 million.
He joins them in 2021.
TINO'S 'BUBBLE LIFE'
While he's been in a COVID-19 "bubble", Tino Fa'asuamaleaui said family and local support helped him enjoy a return to familiar territory during the Melbourne Storm's three month stay on the Sunshine Coast.
With COVID-19 causing lockdowns in Victoria, Storm set up base in the region in June and have since played five games at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Although there's plenty of restrictions in place, Fa'asuamaleaui said he had enjoyed being back in the region.
"It's been so good, especially playing here in front of a home crowd," he said.
"This is our home away from home which has been good and it's good to hear a few Gympie people when I'm walking up and down the field say hello.
Fa'asuamaleaui savoured being able to have partner Jordan and daughter Alina join him in the bubble at Twin Waters
"They're both staying there which is real good, I think without them it would've been really tough.
"To have family there is a big help for me.
"They can't go to games but there's a room there (Twin Waters) where they put a projector on for the families (to watch games) which is good."
He's even managed to see his parents face-to-face, although socially-distanced.
"They've been coming to the games which is good, and I get to say hello to them then," he said.
"It sucks I can't give them a hug but it's all right."
With a standout year for Storm, Origin rumours have started swirling around the chance of Fa'asuamaleaui joining the Maroons come season's end.
The 20-year-old had aspirations of making the squad but was keeping focused on the task at hand for Storm.
"I'm hoping so (to be in the mix), but I just want to stay healthy and play good football for my name to get tossed up," he said.
"I've got another opportunity (in finals series) to hopefully show what I've got.
"I'll keep doing what I'm doing and doing the little things right and hopefully my name gets tossed up."