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Sione Katoa's acrobatic try-scoring prowess has made him a human highlight reel across 99 NRL games, but the humble Sharks flyer's proudest moment remains earning his own locker as a rookie.

Ahead of game 100 on Thursday night against the Eels – coincidentally the club where he emerged as a junior – Katoa took stock of a first-grade career that began with a broken jaw on debut and has netted 65 four-pointers to date.

Never has the softly-spoken Katoa forgotten his roots.

His gratitude stems from his early years in Hamilton, New Zealand, where his parents fought tooth and nail to provide a better life for their family in difficult circumstances, before moving to western Sydney aged four and taking up footy.

That journey is why seeing his image next to a personalised changeroom locker when he broke into Cronulla's NRL squad meant so much to the consistent winger.

"My parents sacrificed a lot and it's played a huge role in where I am today and the type of player and person I am today," Katoa says.

"I remember when I was in 20s I had a goal. I just wanted a locker to myself. My own photo, my own name. I ended up getting an NRL debut, which was even better."

Katoa first played for the Berala Bears as a junior before switching to the Chester Hill Hornets. He eventually caught the eye of the Eels and joined their system.

However, at 17 he was left at a crossroads that almost led him to rugby union.

"I finished playing SG Ball at Parramatta. After SG Ball, I was about to sign with the Waratahs as a development (player) there because I had no options," he says.

"It was a last-minute thing – the week I was supposed to go and sign for the Waratahs, the Sharks asked me to come and trial. I didn't want to give up on league just yet because I'd been playing it since I was young.

"I'm glad I made that decision because I wouldn't be where I am today."

He didn't take long to make waves at Cronulla, finishing the 2017 Holden Cup (under 20s) season as the top try-scorer as the Sharks won the minor premiership.

The next season, a wide-eyed Katoa found himself lining up on the flank against Johnathan Thurston's Cowboys in Round 1, 2018.

It was bittersweet, with Katoa breaking his jaw in a 20-14 loss in Townsville.

"Everything happened so quick," Katoa reflects.

"Mentally, I wasn't ready to play first grade. I was still shocked by where I was at. Being around (the NRL squad) full-time and running out and seeing Johnathan Thurston on my debut... I was just shocked at how quick it happened."

In the years since, Katoa has wowed crowds with his unbelievable try-scoring feats. As he once quipped, he can "make it look sexy for the fans" by seemingly defying physics to launch himself in the air while contorting his body to ground the ball.

"We really don't practise those jumps, but most of the time it just happens," he says. "You don't even think about it and it just happens.

"When you do it you just shock yourself. You're surprised, like, 'How did I even do that?' or 'This is not meant to happen'. But it just feels good."

Katoa achieved another dream when he represented Tonga at the 2022 World Cup.

"It was really big for me. Both of my parents are Tongan and I'm real proud of my heritage and my culture," he says. "Putting on that jersey just means a lot."

A large contingent of Katoa's family and friends will cheer him on at CommBank Stadium, a ground where he's bagged some of his most famous tries.

His immediate family, including his partner and kids, were part of a special jersey presentation in front of his teammates on Wednesday morning.

"I am lucky enough to have all my family here – my parents, my brothers and sisters, some cousins. Some flew over from New Zealand too," he says.

As he joins an exclusive club of 100 gamers, Katoa is quick to share the credit.

"I have a lot of people in my life that I'll never forget what they've done for me," he concludes. "Darren Mooney (General Manager Football) for even bringing me over to the Sharks when I had nothing. John Morris, my 20s coach. Family friends that helped me by taking me to training when I was little.

"(Former Sharks NRL assistant coach) Dave Howlett was a big one when I was struggling in the NRL coming through, just giving me that confidence.

"And, obviously, my family and my friends."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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