By Warrick D. Nicolson
He’s young, talented, has a first name that’s hard to pronounce - and now Cronulla utility Fa’amanu Brown is set to be unleashed on the NRL stage at this weekend’s Auckland Nines.
The 19-year-old was elevated into the NRL squad for off-season training and announced himself to the black, white and blue faithful with a try in Friday night’s first NRL trial of 2014.
The first question he receives in the Remondis Stadium sheds after Cronulla’s 24-12 win over Manly is one he’s sure to get all the time.
“So what is your full name?” this reporter asks, admittedly with the story headline locked in before the interview even begins.
“My name is Fa’amanu Brown, but it is Nu…. for short. A lot of people joke about it (calling me) ‘brand nu’ or ‘nu school’ but I’ll cop it,” Brown said
Brown isn't really that new however, as he arrived from Christchurch when he was 16 after being spotted by Cronulla 20’s coach James Shepherd and made his NYC debut in 2012 playing two games.
In 2013 as a fully-fledged member of the team - Brown scored 15 tries in his 23 games for the Sharks in the National Youth Competition - playing at five-eighth, hooker and at centre during the season and he earned a chance to train with the First Grade squad in the 2014 pre-season.
“My mindset last year was at least to just get a starting spot (in NYC) and I played well enough to hold my starting spots over the whole 24 rounds,” Brown says. “This is my last year (of NYC) and I'm off contract this year, so it is a bit do or die - so hopefully I make it happen this year and get a new deal.
“I'm expected to be a leader in the 20s, and I’ll try and do my best this year to lead the team to a few more Ws.”
That focus on helping the young Sharks improve on their 8-win campaign of 2013, will only be strengthened now he’s had a pre-season mixing with the big boys.
“Being able to train here in an NRL pre-season allows me to just bring that experience back down to the 20s and explain to them what lines to hit and talk one on one with them about stuff (I've learnt),” Brown explains.
“I've learned a lot. Just to take risks, you know take a risk because you only get one opportunity at this so you've got to make the most of it. I've been training with the NRL halves but I'm happy to play wherever the coach or the team needs me - I'm more than grateful to be there.”
Brown knows the value of training with the variety of halves Cronulla has - and doesn't want to miss a thing he could possibly learn from them.
“Todd Carney’s been a massive part of my game - he’s always teaching me every day. Just to see Jeff Robson and Daniel Holdsworth training - when I look at them I see how clear, structured and organised they are and I obviously want to learn from them. I take notes from all of their games after training,” he said.
“Toddy is one different player and the thing about him is he loves to take risks and has a dig really. With Jeff and Daniel they get the team organised and let Toddy be the great player he is.”
Taking risks mantra saw Brown score Cronulla’s first try on Friday night in front of a small but vocal crowd - slipping between two Manly defenders into a tiny gap from 10m out, then after hitting the turf he managed to drag himself away from the Manly fullback’s last ditch tackle and score… well maybe.
“I just had it in my head to have the confidence (to take the line on) and have a dig… he (the Manly fullback) did get me when I was crawling but I got there,” Brown smiles.
“A lot of them (Manly players) were saying ‘double movement, double movement’ but it’s a dream come true to get a try at that level and I’m over the moon.”
Brown’s try came in the first half when the majority of the players on the field for both teams were NYC or NSW Cup players but it still goes down as a try in an NRL standard fixture and he knows it.
“It was awesome to score and I'm so thankful that I had the older boys in the squad behind me like Tupou Sopoaga and Ricky Leutele to pat me on the back,” Brown said.
This is where Brown shows his relatively young age… as Sopoaga is only 21 and Leutele just 23 - having played a mere 14 NRL games between them (Leutele has 13 of them), yet Brown recognises their seniority in the squad ahead of him.
And though he will get a chance to play alongside the pair at the Auckland Nines this weekend - he is extremely keen to do it at the NRL level in 2014 but he knows he has to be ready if coach Peter Sharp taps him on the shoulder.
“I know I’ve got to be ready if there are injuries that I’m 100% prepared to step up to the NRL if required and do my best for the team.”
Despite knowing he is going to Auckland for the Nines (where he will play a lot of time at hooker interchanging with fellow young gun Michael Lichaa) - Brown’s focus is on the season proper - with the NYC Sharks.
“My first aim for 2014 is to get a starting spot in the 20s and teach the younger boys what I’ve learnt in my last 12 months and so when we get on the field in Round 1 - hopefully we’re all on the same page and we get the W.”
And that is the best sign of all from Nu Brown - despite wanting desperately to play a game of NRL in 2014 and perhaps secure his long term Rugby League future - he realises that his job this season is more than likely to be a leader and a difference maker in the NYC, and he knows that if he can help the young Sharks to regular victories, he might just get that taste of NRL football he’s always dreamed of and a chance to stay in the Shire.
“I do love this area - coming from not a good background - and being here I just want to make sure I stay here. I’m off-contract at the end of 2014 but just being here has been an awesome experience.”
Nu Brown’s NYC Stats - Last 5 Games of 2013
Round 22 v NEW W 26-24
| Played Centre: 1 try, 11 runs for 87m, 4 tackle breaks, 1 line break, 2 line break assists, 1 try assist, 4 kicks for 90m, 20 tackles
Round 23 v SGI W 24-16
| Played Centre: 1 try, 16 runs for 124m, 1 offload, 6 tackle breaks, 1 line break, 1 kick for 10m, 9 tackles,
Round 24 v SYD L 22-20
| Played Centre: 12 runs for 112m, 2 tackle breaks, 13 tackles
Round 25 v NQL W 36-20
| Played Centre: 1 try, 12 runs for 119m, 3 tackle breaks, 1 line break, 1 kick for 22m, 17 tackles
Round 26 v CAN 36-34
| Played Centre: 10 runs for 100m, 6 tackle breaks, 1 line break, 1 line break assist, 13 tackles