Castleford centre Mahe Fonua has described Lee Radford as his “rugby daddy”, and wants to have a big season for the Tigers boss in 2023.
Radford first brought the Tongan powerhouse to Super League in 2016, winning back-to-back Challenge Cups together.
Fonua went back home to Australia in 2018 before returning to Hull two years later. And now, Fonua is still playing under Radford, but at Castleford.
“I’ve got mad love for him as a person,” Fonua told Love Rugby League. “And I’m not shy in saying that.
“We’ve got a good relationship. He brought me over when I was younger then I went back home and I’ve come back to daddy.
“When it’s crunch time, he knows when to turn that on and behind closed doors, if he needs to put his arm around you or have a laugh with the boys, then he’s good at that as well.
“He’s probably the longest-serving coach I’ve been under”
“When I first come over, I probably had a bit more flair and I was a bit more of a off-the-cuff type of player but as I’ve got older I have a role to be a leader for the young players coming through and be more consistent and doing those little things a bit better.
“I just want to be more consistent for him and be a strong carrier of the ball and to have a presence in defence.
“From speaking to him about his experience with Samoa at the World Cup, he said it was very humbling for him. I think that’s pretty cool seeing that there is a pretty big Polynesian contingency at Castleford, so he can probably relate to those boys a bit more, having been back to Samoa as well.”
Mahe Fonua “optimistic” about what Castleford can do in 2023
Radford has put his own stamp on the Jungle this year, having brought seven new players to the club.
“We’ve brought some good talent in,” Fonua added.
“There are a good base of players from last year that we’ve kept and we’ve managed to bring in key positions in Jacob Miller and Gareth Widdop that come into our spine.
“Optimistic is a good word to use.
“Things are looking brighter but you never really know until you’re on the paddock and you are playing 80 minutes so hopefully things go well for us.”
Fonua, who played in the NRL for Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers, says his preferred position is now centre, having progressed through the ranks as a winger.
“I’m pretty comfortable playing centre now,” he added. “I’ve had a full season there and built up some combinations there. But it would be no dramas to play on the wing.”
Mate Ma’a Tonga
Fonua represented his beloved Tonga at the World Cups in 2013 and 2017, winning six caps for his mother nation.
The last time he played for Tonga competitively was at the 2017 World Cup, but he got the chance to pull on the red jersey in a World Cup warm-up match against France last autumn.
“To get a call from Kristian Woolf asking me to have a run against France, putting the Tongan jersey on was a proud moment,” he said.
“I’m proud as punch to be Tongan and the last chance I got to pull on the Tongan jersey was the 2017 World Cup, so it was five years between drinks. It is always an honour to represent my family and my mother nation.
“It’s good to see players wanting to represent the smaller nations, turning down big match payments from Australia and New Zealand. It’s good to see how far Tonga have come. They started that movement and it’s awesome to see Samoa following that step and going one better, getting to the World Cup final.
“There are some big names turning down those big nations. Hopefully that is something to follow with all the kids growing up wanting to pull on a Samoan or Tongan jersey. I hope that the game can see that and they start to put money in to those smaller teams.”
Castleford get their Super League campaign underway at Fonua’s former club Hull on Sunday afternoon.