Keaon Koloamatangi‘s family missed out on watching his NRL debut in Melbourne due to COVID restrictions, but they are determined not to miss the opportunity to see him play in the State of Origin III. Koloamatangi, along with Bradman Best, will make their Origin debuts for the NSW Blues in the series finale on July 12. There have been several changes to the NSW squad, including the selections of Cody Walker, Clint Gutherson, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jake Trbojevic, and Jacob Saifiti. Unfortunately, Campbell Graham is unavailable due to a sternum injury, otherwise the Rabbitohs would have equaled their record for the most players selected in an Origin game. Walker will replace Jarome Luai at five-eighth, and Cameron Murray‘s inclusion at lock has resulted in Isaah Yeo moving to the bench alongside Gutherson, Saifiti, and Reece Robson.
For Koloamatangi, being selected to start in the second-row for NSW is a dream come true. As both he and Cameron Murray grew up together playing for the Mascot Jets, this opportunity represents the fulfilment of their childhood aspirations. Despite facing multiple injuries as a teenager, Koloamatangi’s talent was recognised by former Rabbitohs GM of football, Shane Richardson, who praised the young player’s potential. Koloamatangi’s parents have been his biggest supporters, making it even more disappointing that they were unable to attend his NRL debut in 2020 due to COVID travel restrictions.
COVID’s impact on the NRL season meant that teams had to travel on chartered planes and play in closed stadiums. Koloamatangi described his debut against the Storm as feeling more like an under 20s game due to the unique circumstances surrounding the match. He expressed gratitude towards his parents for their unwavering support and acknowledged that their absence at his debut only fueled his determination to have a successful career. Even before his NRL debut, Koloamatangi caught the attention of Tonga coach, Kristian Woolf, who recognised his potential to be a key player for the Pacific nation.
Ben Hornby, Rabbitohs assistant coach and Woolf’s fellow staff member, also believed in Koloamatangi’s abilities and recommended him for selection in last year’s mid-season Test against New Zealand. Koloamatangi went on to be a vital member of Tonga’s World Cup squad, impressing everyone with his work ethic, power, skill, and versatility. Woolf commended Koloamatangi for his professionalism and preparation, as well as his strong family values. He believes that the young forward has enormous potential and will continue to improve as he progresses in his career.
Overall, Keaon Koloamatangi‘s selection in the NSW State of Origin squad is a testament to his hard work and dedication. Despite overcoming injuries and facing adversity, he has emerged as a talented and versatile player capable of making a significant impact at the representative level. Koloamatangi’s family will finally have the opportunity to see him represent NSW, and he is determined to make the most of this chance to showcase his skills on the Origin stage.