“Here comes the Queenslander!”
It wasn’t the greeting Ronaldo Mulitalo was expecting as he walked into the New Zealand team hotel in Auckland earlier this week, but the cheeky jibe from Brandon Smith turned out to be the perfect ice breaker.
The reference to the Cronulla winger’s fleeting time as a Maroons squad member last year — when he was selected and then quickly ruled ineligible — addressed the elephant in the room from the outset and allowed the Mulitalo to get on with enjoying his first week with the Kiwis.
“It broke the barrier straight away. It was one of those things, I knew it was going to come up in the media this week,” Mulitalo told NRL.com.
The discourse surrounding the 22-year-old since the eligibility gaffe painted him as on the fence when it came to who he wanted to represent in the Test arena, given he also qualifies for Toa Samoa.
But both he and Kiwis coach Michael Maguire insist that was never really the case.
“During the middle of last year he came to me when we were in the (NRL bubble) hotel together and said it [playing for the Kiwis] was always something he wanted to achieve,” Maguire told NRL.com.
“He had to go through all the chatter about where he would play. But I have sort of got to know Ronaldo over many years and he has always been a passionate Kiwi boy and he explained that to me a long time ago.”
As a child, Mulitalo played for the Ellerslie Eagles – the same junior club as Kieran Foran – before heading across the Tasman as a teenager.
He never got picked for age-group New Zealand teams and represented the Queensland U/20 side in 2019 alongside current Maroons star Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, but always maintained an emotional connection to the black jersey.
I always knew I was a Kiwi… this is where my family are, I am a born and bred New Zealander.Ronaldo Mulitalo
"I played my junior rugby league here and I am a south Auckland boy from Otara," Mulitalo said.
“I want to do the nation proud. I am pretty clear to Madge that I will be there to put my best foot forward for the World Cup.
“I got a bit shaky when I was putting the jersey on for the first time. It felt like a full circle moment.
“Even when I put the training kit on the first night of camp I went and showed by parents like a proud little boy.”
With 10 tries, 20 line breaks and 50 tackle breaks for the Sharks this year, Mulitalo has earned a start for the clash against Mate Ma’a Tonga ahead of experienced wingers Ken Maumalo and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Making his debut all the more special at Mount Smart Stadium will be lining up directly opposite his Cronulla teammate and friend Sione Katoa, who was born in New Zealand but opted to play for Tonga.
“I am excited to see him succeeding and I know it’s a big moment for his family,” Mulitalo said when asked about Katoa.
“We were texting each other little funny messages about what we will do to each other if we collide. My bet is we will talk like we are going to have fun but then run straight into each other.
“I can’t wait for that if that’s the case.
“He’s going to get some kind words thrown his way too.”
Match: New Zealand v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland