Warriors skipper Ryan Hoffman pulled rising star Bunty Afoa aside after his NRL first-grade debut and gave him one key piece of advice.
If you’re going to take on the line, commit.
The 19-year-old Aucklander has surprised many with his seamless transition to rugby league’s top flight, impressing in an unfamiliar second-row role.
But Afoa, who has scored two tries in his three NRL games, remains in awe of his more established teammates.
He told NZN his fellow Warriors back-rowers have helped him transition from running the ball straight as a prop to hitting defensive gaps as a No.11.
“It was a dream come true when I got on, and to have Hoffy and them giving me support in that back-row position,” Afoa said.
“Because I’ve got Shaun Johnson on my side, I’ve just got to commit to whatever play he gives me and take that line on because it’s pretty hard out the back.”
Life in the first grade came with challenges on and off the park, according to Afoa, but he was putting his best foot forward.
His starting XIII role depended upon successfully managing injuries and recovery.
“I’m still young and I’ve still got to do the extra work to earn that spot because there’s a lot of boys here who deserve the spot too,” Afoa said.
“It’s the opportunity I wanted and I took it with both hands.”
Hoffman thought Afoa had excelled in his role as deputy for the injured Bodene Thompson, who is expected to return in the coming weeks.
“I just love his attitude, he’s not resting on his laurels and he’s always looking to improve for next week,” Hoffman said on Wednesday.
“It’s not a position he’s used to but his willingness to learn and get better is really pleasing to see.”
The ninth-placed Warriors head into Saturday’s home match against Penrith reeling from three golden-point defeats in their past four NRL games.
The Panthers, having re-signed veteran Peter Wallace and forward Trent Merrin over the week, sit in eighth on the ladder with six games to play.
The match will go a long way towards determining which team squeezes into the NRL finals, with just two points separating the sides.
Afoa, who made 34 tackles in his 70 minutes on the park against the Raiders last week, expects a front-row tussle at Mt Smart Stadium.
“Their forwards will come and play but for us, we have to play our game and put our team first,” Afoa said.
* The Warriors have won just one of their past seven matches against the Panthers, with four of those losses by 12 points or more
* The Warriors have made the fourth-most linebreaks in the NRL (5.4 per game) and also conceded the third-least metres (1358m per game)
* Penrith have won just six of their 21 away games since the start of 2015
Source: Fox Sports Stats