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'Built like rocks': Ronaldo backs NRL Combine to unearth US talent

Sharks star Ronaldo Mulitalo has encouraged his former US team-mates to enter the NRL Combine in Las Vegas in the belief that some have the potential to join him in the Telstra Premiership.

The NRL will conduct an NFL-style Combine for 25 male and 25 female athletes on March 2, ahead of the season opening double-header at Allegiant Stadium in which Manly face Souths and Sydney Roosters play Brisbane.

After undergoing a series of physical tests and an assessment of their skills, two men and two women will be selected to travel to Australia to train with an elite team and given the opportunity to impress NRL clubs.

Mulitalo, who represented the United States at the 2019 World Cup 9s in Sydney, predicted the combine would unearth some talented athletes and said many of his USA team-mates had the ability to play NRL if given an opportunity.

NRL try time: Ronaldo Mulitalo

“Some of those guys are just natural athletes,” Mulitalo said. “Obviously, you've got to add the technical bit, but that is something that you can coach. Half the battle is trying to be an athlete and most of those guys are.

“They're just built like rocks over there, so I’d back any of them. Heaps of my mates that are currently there, I'd encourage them to get into the combine if the opportunity comes up.”

Mulitalo, who starred for New Zealand in last year’s Pacific Championships final triumph against Australia, qualifies for the United States through his mother, who was born in American Samoa.

Ronaldo Mulitalo was a member of the USA squad at the 2019 World Cup 9s in Sydney
Ronaldo Mulitalo was a member of the USA squad at the 2019 World Cup 9s in Sydney ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The 24-year-old winger said he had dreamed of representing the USA and is likely to have played more matches if COVID hadn’t intervened after the World Cup 9s at the end of the 2019 season.

“We were talking about it just over Christmas, actually,” he said. “Before I even came to the Sharks, I was with my older brother and I just remember saying to him, ‘I promise you that by 2018 or 2019, I'm going play for America’.

“It was just one of those dreams that I could see, and be able to do. For that dream to come true in 2019 was pretty cool.

“I don't have too much connection, so I'm not going to stand here and say ‘I'm a massive USA guy’, but just to represent that part of my heritage was nice. It was nice to do that for Mum. She was pretty happy about it.”

Ronaldo's road to the USA for World Cup Nines

Among his team-mates in the USA squad were American-born Joe Eichner and Ryan Burroughs, who played for Toronto Wolfpack and had respective stints with Northern Pride and Wentworthville Magpies.

The pair, who have both returned to the US, will line up for the Hawks in a Test against Canada in Las Vegas on March 1.  

“I still follow heaps of the boys like Joe Eichner and all of the boys, who came here and  played in the 9s with me, and have gone back home to the US," Mulitalo said as he helped the Sharks launch a community partnership with Quest Apartment Hotels.

Match Highlights: Kangaroos v USA

“It's good to see the game growing, and it's good to see us [the NRL] going over there and showcasing it. I have just followed it from afar and seen how the game's going.

“Obviously, they struggled through that period of Covid, like everyone did, and with a game that's not so big there they struggled a fair bit, but it’s good to finally see them coming back.”

While Mulitalo fulfilled a dream by playing for the United States, he is now firmly committed to the Kiwis and hopes to enjoy more success with his birth nation following November's record 30-0 defeat of the Kangaroos.

Mulitalo makes his mark

"It has been a while since I have won something that feels so big and obviously with the way that we did it, it was exciting not only for myself but Fish [captain James Fisher-Harris] and the whole of New Zealand," he said.

"The All Blacks had gone down a few weeks before [at the Rugby World Cup] so for us to get a big win like that for New Zealand was nice."   

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Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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