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Mosese Fotuaika

Discussion in 'Rugby League Forum' started by Kiwi Eagle, May 27, 2013.

  1. Kiwi Eagle

    Kiwi Eagle Moderator Staff Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

    +3,866 /65
    A long read but 1 worth reading

    Tragic story of rising NRL star Mosese Fotuaika

    The last day of summer was sticky and hot. At Wests Tigers' headquarters in Sydney, players sweated through their final training session before the start of the 2013 National Rugby League season. Mosese Fotuaika was lifting weights.

    The 20-year-old had a long, handsome face and the solid build of his Tongan forebears. He was bench-pressing 90kg. This wasn't much of a challenge. "He could lift 160kg" says Joel Luani, who partnered him in the gym that day. But Fotuaika suddenly gasped. "It was a split-second thing," Luani says. "He went to lift and then he couldn't."

    Team physiotherapist Peter Moussa could see that Fotuaika had torn a pectoral muscle, an injury that could sideline the up-and-coming prop for several months. Still, Moussa was surprised by Fotuaika's reaction. He was normally a stoical young man. "I said, ‘Is it the pain? Is that why you're crying?' He said, ‘No. It's just stinging a bit.'

    "The physio fitted him with a sling and tried to comfort him. I put his forehead on my shoulder and my hand around his neck. I said, ‘It's OK, buddy'." There is a lingering bewilderment in Moussa's voice. "You know, it was just strange," he says. "It was really strange."

    Fotuaika's friend Ben Murdoch-Masila offered his injured mate a lift home, doing his best to cheer him up. He remembers thinking he wasn't getting through: "He was really upset. He said, ‘Mate, let's go for a beer'. I said, ‘Your injury's too fresh. It will interfere with your healing'."

    In any case, the two didn't have much time. Murdoch-Masila was expected to join the rest of the Tigers squad for a recreational cricket match that afternoon, and Moussa wanted Fotuaika returned to his care. "I asked him if he wanted to get changed at my house," says Murdoch-Masila. "He said, ‘No, I want to go home'."

    Murdoch-Masila dropped Fotuaika at his rented townhouse at 12.45pm. "I told him I'd come back to pick him up in about half an hour."

    When Murdoch-Masila and another player returned to collect him, Fotuaika didn't answer the door. Nor did he pick up his phone.

    His team-mates were puzzled but not particularly concerned - maybe he had gone out or fallen asleep. They called Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter, who told them to continue on their way to the cricket match.

    "I said, ‘It's not your problem to find Mosese'," recalls Potter, who, along with Moussa, tried repeatedly to phone him during the next few hours.
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    Fotuaika's body was found in the garage by his girlfriend, Shanice Alaiasa, when she got home soon after 6.30pm on February 28.

    "Shanice rang me, screaming into the phone, ‘He's gone'," says Nicole Heu, Alaiasa's mother. "I said, ‘Shanice, calm down. What's happened?' She said, ‘Mosese is gone, mum'."

    Alaiasa, 20, is tall, dark-haired, resolutely composed - and well into the third trimester of her pregnancy. A law student, she deferred her studies and returned to the Gold Coast to live with her family while she awaits the birth of a child who will grow up without its father.

    "When I packed up the house, I searched everywhere for a note somewhere," she says. "But at the same time, I know Mosese, and I know he's not going to spell out his emotions. Even though I was looking, I didn't expect to find anything." She pauses. "It's just frustrating, having a big question mark."

    What drove Mosese Fotuaika to end his life? A successful young footballer injures himself in the gym then goes home and commits suicide: it doesn't make sense to the people who loved him.

    Jo Hallett is deputy principal of Keebra Park State High School on the Gold Coast, which has a league programme and a close relationship with Wests Tigers.

    "The most beautiful boy," Hallett says of Fotuaika. When he moved to Sydney to join Wests Tigers, she remained in close touch with him and had booked to fly down for his 21st birthday in late March. The visit was to be a surprise. As a gift, she had compiled an album of photos and newspaper clippings about his sporting triumphs.

    "This boy was like my second son," she says. "And I never thought he would do that."

    Since then, Hallett replayed conversations in her head. Like Alaiasa, she has been searching for clues - and a motive. What she has come to realise is that Fotuaika, who stood 181cm tall and weighed 104kg, was much more fragile than he appeared.

    "Mosese was a very intense person," she says. And "he had plenty of things he kept to himself".

    Murdoch-Masila, who considered himself Fotuaika's best mate, has been left wondering how well he really knew him. "He never told me his feelings," Murdoch-Masila says. "I think it was how he was brought up. A lot of Islanders are like that - they don't want to be seen as a weak person, or soft."

    They certainly don't look soft on the field. Speakers of Pacific Island languages accounted for less than 0.3 per cent of the Australian population in the 2011 census, yet in the same year almost 30 per cent of contracted NRL players were of Islander heritage.

    "They've got the physique," says Peter Horton, a senior lecturer in human movement studies at Townsville's James Cook University. In short, "they're bloody good at it".

    Fotuaika was born and grew up in Gisborne where his parents settled from Tonga. One of 10 children, he started off playing rugby but switched codes after a visit by a persuasive league scout. At the family's modest Brisbane home, his mother, Lisa, says the decision to move to Australia in 2007 was made partly so that the then-15-year-old Mosese, her oldest boy, would have a better chance of pursuing a career in sport. "Mosese was always quiet," she says. But he was also ambitious, and hard-working. "He was always a guy who wanted to be the best at what he was doing."

    At Keebra Park High, Fotuaika was one of many talented Islander teenagers. To Tigers recruitment manager Warren McDonnell, he stood out: "He was a strong kid. Great defence. Strong carrier of the ball." It was at Keebra that Fotuaika met Shanice. "There was no-one else for him," says Hallett. "And she idolised him."

    At 19, Fotuaika signed a contract with Wests Tigers, which meant moving away from Alaiasa and his big family. He was wretchedly homesick. "Mosese hated Sydney because his family wasn't there," Alaiasa says. Lisa says she phoned her son often: "He always says, ‘Mum, you don't know how hard it is'."

    Last year, Fotuaika's second season with the club went better. Alaiasa joined him in Sydney. He played a key role in the Tigers' under-20s team's victory in the National Youth Cup, even scoring a try in the grand final.

    Best of all, he was awarded a place in the club's first grade squad.

    Fotuaika hadn't yet been selected to play firsts but as the 2013 kickoff approached, it seemed clear it was just a matter of time. Lisa says that when she spoke to him on February 25, "he was saying, ‘Mum, maybe one or two weeks, then I'll debut'. That was the ultimate thing for Mosese, to debut in the NRL."

    Lisa and her husband were not yet aware their son's girlfriend was pregnant. Alaiasa says he had put off telling them until after he played a first-grade match, figuring they would be so proud they would be pleased about the baby, too. Alaiasa was dismayed initially, because she believed that Fotuaika needed to be able to give his full focus to football: "I said to him, 'I don't want to distract you.' He said, ‘No, the baby is a blessing'."

    On February 27, he went along when she had an ultrasound and spoke later to her mother. "He said he could hear the heartbeat and, ‘Wow, wasn't that amazing?'," Nicole Heu remembers. "He was happy."

    On the day he died, Fotuaika left home at 5.30am to go to training. Potter was in a meeting in an office near the gym when he heard about Fotuaika. "I poked my head out and was watching the physio assess him," says Potter, who decided Fotuaika was in capable hands and he would wait until later to talk to him. By the time he came out, Fotuaika had left.

    Ever since, Potter has been questioning himself: "Should I have gone out and spoken to him then? Would that have made a difference? You just don't know."

    At about 5.30pm, Heu was called by her daughter, who said she had been thinking about baby names and texting them to Fotuaika. He didn't respond.

    A little later, Alaiasa spoke to Murdoch-Masila who told her about Fotuaika's injury. More than anyone, Alaiasa was aware of the full import of this news: she knew how badly her boyfriend wanted a first grade game.

    "I knew it was going to devastate him," she says. "I was straight away texting him, saying, ‘I hope you're OK. It's all right. I'll try to call you'."

    Alaiasa then headed home, hoping he had simply turned his phone off. Stuck in peak-hour traffic, she felt panic rising.

    It was probably too late by then anyway. Police believe Fotuaika killed himself soon after arriving home - he was found hanged. Like everyone who cared about Fotuaika, Heu has been struggling to understand his state of mind.

    "We know he took off his shoes and put his bag in the laundry, where he always puts it," she says. He also plugged his phone into its charger. "Then I think he got angry at himself."

    Former Kiwis player Nigel Vagana says people of Pacific Island descent have a "connection to family that is a lot stronger than in most other cultures". "We also have a communal mentality: ‘What's mine is yours'."

    Vagana says many Islander footballers feel financially responsible for extended clans. It's not that they are forced to provide for them; they want to.

    "We put family above everything else. A lot of players obviously love the game but it's actually the opportunity to support the family that keeps them in the sport."

    Fotuaika's friends say he felt this very strongly. "He was sending most of his money back to his family and only keeping a little bit for himself," Murdoch-Masila says.

    Luani believes Fotuaika's distress about his injury stemmed from his assumption that it would lower his earning capacity. Not only would he lose the opportunity to supplement his A$75,000 salary (NZ$90,000) with A$3000 (NZ$3600) first-grade match fees but, in the longer term, it was less likely the Tigers would re-sign him if he couldn't get onto the field and demonstrate his value.

    "He probably felt like he'd let his family down," Luani says, "even though he hadn't."

    Academic Lakisa says the collectivism of Islander culture means footballers don't just share dollars with their kin but the honour of belonging to the NRL.

    "When I debut, it's not my debut. It's my mother's, my father's, my grandparents', my great-great-grandparents', who are watching over me now. It's their debut."

    Aspects of Fotuaika's personality were typically Tongan. His reserve, his humility, his deference to elders. They were traits that endeared him to Hallett but she can see that they may not always have helped him in league's rough and tumble world.

    She knows he was taking a while to adjust to life in the Tigers' senior squad. He was shy and felt overawed by the older players. Hallett had urged Fotuaika to learn to look them in the eye, and to lighten up a little. "I think you are so-o-o hard on yourself," she had written to him in 2011.

    No-one at the club spent more time in the gym than Fotuaika, and Alaiasa cannot imagine that anyone worked harder away from it. After a full day's training, he would come home and train some more.

    "While I'm cooking dinner, he's going for an hour's run. Then as I'm serving dinner, he's doing push-ups and sit-ups in the lounge-room." He felt he couldn't afford to rest. "You're always worrying that someone bigger and younger and fitter is going to come through and take your position," she says.

    Fotuaika had focused so single-mindedly on becoming a professional footballer that he had acquired no other qualifications. "There was nothing else he could have done, really," Murdoch-Masila says. "That was the only thing he was good at."

    At James Cook University, Peter Horton says both rugby codes have been transformed by dazzling Island performers. "They're some of the most colourful and dynamic players."

    Their crowd-pleasing ability has contributed significantly to the sports' financial success.

    But Horton suspects that in the big business that is modern rugby, young Islanders are sometimes regarded as commodities rather than as vulnerable human beings.

    "If you're making a lot of money out of these kids, you've got to develop them holistically," he says. "You can't just think about their side-step techniques."

    Reactions to Fotuaika's death differ. Heu is sad and furious. The other day, she took out her rage on a leaf-blowing machine that wouldn't start: "I picked it up and I threw it. I was like, ‘Mosese, I am so angry that you did this because you didn't have to!"'

    For a while, Murdoch-Masila was plagued by nightmares. He still agonises over the possibility that he might have saved his friend if he had tried to get into the house instead of going to the cricket match.

    Luani can't stop thinking about the moment in the gym. "I try to convince myself that there's not much I could have done," he says. "But I feel guilty."

    Two weeks before Fotuaika died, his agent, Simon Mammino, had spoken to recruitment manager Warren McDonnell about his future at Wests Tigers.

    Lisa says Mammino subsequently brought her the alarming news that her son was unlikely to be re-signed when his contract expired in November.

    She was careful not to pass this on to Fotuaika, knowing how distraught he would be, but she did relay to him that Mammino had been told by the club that he needed to improve his communication on the field. Lisa thought this was crazy. "Mosese can't talk," she says. "That's just how he is. But his actions speak louder."

    Mammino says the club hadn't decided whether they would keep Fotuaika. "But at that point, it probably was not looking in his favour."

    McDonnell concedes he told the agent that Fotuaika needed to get better at on-field communication but he says Potter was already working with him on that. And the suggestion that Fotuaika's contract would not be renewed? "That's a load of crap," McDonnell says.

    Mammino regrets he wasn't closer to his client. "I wish I could have done more," he says. But the agent insists - and McDonnell backs him on this - that he always had Fotuaika's best interests at heart. "He was a nice, humble, quiet kid," says Mammino. "I'm traumatised."

    Fotuaika's parents are finding it impossible to come to terms with their loss. The way they see it, Mosese died in the care of Wests Tigers. "They were his second family," his mother says. "They came and asked us, ‘We want your boy'. They were the ones we trusted to look after him."

    In Stephen Humphreys' office, the subdued CEO says the club has always looked out for the young players it recruits but attention to their welfare will now be intensified. Beyond that, he doesn't know what to do or say.

    "I was sitting here with his parents and Shanice and they just couldn't understand it. All I could say to them was, ‘I don't have the answers, either'."

    Injury, homesickness, fear of failure, an unplanned pregnancy . . . all may have contributed to Fotuaika's decision.

    But to Shanice they don't constitute an explanation. "What am I going to tell my kid?" she says, her voice wobbling.

    Hallett is stuck with the image of Fotuaika, dressed in his Wests Tigers suit, lying in his open coffin. He barely fitted into the casket, she says. "He was such a big man."

    And, in many ways, such a fortunate one. "He had everything going for him but he didn't see that."

    - Sydney Morning Herald
    • Like Like x 1
    • SeaEagleRock8

      SeaEagleRock8 Sea Eagle Lach Staff Member Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +10,538 /214
      Thanks for posting that. As fans we often only see the end result on field. It is a tragedy that obviously has shattered his family and teammates.
    • Pittwater Legend

      Pittwater Legend Well-Known Member

      +1,163 /34
      Really sad story there. It's a shame that there was so much pressure on the young guy that it stopped him from seeing all the good things he had going on.

      His girl sounds like a keeper and really had his back. I hope she succeeds with her studies but it'll no doubt be tougher for her now that he isn't around.

      We've got a young guy playing for us at the moment who is in a slightly similar position. Hiku has made the bold move to us from New Zealand on low pay so that he can make a life for himself and his young family. I hope he has a fantastic debut season with us to help him settle in.

      When I was a teenager I went through a period of negative uncertainty myself. I'm glad I hung tough because what made me so depressed back then has opened my eyes, shaped my beliefs and shaped the way I think now and it's all for the better. Looking back I actually laugh at how naive I was back then.
    • globaleagle

      globaleagle Je saisis mon chapeau. Staff Member Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +13,309 /117
      An interesting read and thanks for posting. I know Jane Cadzow and she is a good reporter/writer and articles like this one help me understand their culture a little bit more.

      Hug a loved one today folks! (preferably one of your own).
    • Chip and Chase

      Chip and Chase True Supporter Staff Member Administrator Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +8,577 /80
      Tough on everyone involved. So much guilt for those left behind, lots of what ifs and maybes.
    • Frank

      Frank Well-Known Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +1,453 /27
      Very sad.
    • HappilyManly

      HappilyManly MWTS Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +19,021 /367
      What is such a paradox is these boy's feelings of isolation in such a strong Community and Family culture.

      The story clearly notes that they play for their Community, yet do not feel that they can address their personal issues with them. :huh:

      There are a large Tongan Communities all over Sydney, so I am at a loss to understand how these kiddies do not have an Elder to talk with.

      The absolutes of the young is common to all generations, it's the angst of living in the real world as opposed to an idealised one.

      Both boys were in relationships and with kids at such a young age.
      Maybe the responsibility would be less, if they were counselled to plan families in line with their chosen careers :angel:

      Sad all round :(
    • Mals

      Mals Well-Known Member Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

      +1,650 /39
      Thanks for posting this story KE. Devasting for his partner & unborn child in particular. How his family get over this I don't know.... time I guess will help a little. A promising life cut down way too short...

      RIP Mosese

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