Felise Kaufusi is still a few weeks off joining his Dolphins teammates on the training paddock, but he’s liking what he is seeing from the players slogging it out in the sun.
Kaufusi, who has recently returned from Rugby League World Cup duties with Tonga, is set to join preseason training in early January, but said he was thankful to be spared from the Queensland heat … for now.
“They are working pretty hard and it’s hot too! I can see on socials now they've been getting smashed,” Kaufusi told NRL.com.
“I’m there on January 4, so it'll still be hot then, but looking forward to it.”
The former Melbourne Storm forward’s first foray onto the fields of Kayo Stadium will also see him be coached again by Wayne Bennett, who was at the helm when an underdog Queensland side claimed a shock State of Origin win during the COVID-affected series in 2020.
“I say Uncle Wayne, bit tongue-in-cheek, but I've only had him once in that State of Origin in 2020,” Kaufusi said. “I enjoyed my time there and we won the series.
“But I liked the way he coached. And I think he's got a very good poker face (and is different from) what everyone sees and what I saw on TV from him; he's really personable and gets to know you and takes interest in you and your personal life.
“It's not just the football, but also off-field as well which I think is part of what makes him a great coach as well.”
Still enjoying some time off while also completing the move north after spending the past eight seasons in Melbourne, Kaufusi took a moment to reflect on Tonga’s World Cup campaign which was ended at the quarterfinals stage by a resurgent Samoa.
Match Highlights: Tonga v Samoa
“I loved it, was my first time over in the UK, the weather was nice for us, when we were there,” Kaufusi said.
“I enjoyed the experience, but you know, I was obviously disappointed the way we ended a lot earlier than we thought and I guess, for us to live up to our expectations and potential.”
However, he was still pleased to see a Pacific nation make it to the decider against Australia at Old Trafford, and hoped Samoa’s run would inspire more Pasifika players to represent their nations of heritage, just as Tonga had helped inspire many of the Samoan team.
“It was awesome for our game and for our people as Pasifika and obviously, we would have loved to be there, but for them I think they represented the Pasifika nations as an all, as a big group and I was fully supporting them, as hard as it was to support them,” Kaufusi said.
“I think it's awesome to get behind them for all of our nations, so I thought they represented us as a Pasifika really well and we're happy for them to make it that far.
“It would have been even better if they got the job done, but just to get that far was unreal.
“They could have had even a strongest side with (Jeremiah) Nanai and Murray Taulagi who obviously played for Australia, Tino (Fa'asuamaleaui) as well … it's obviously their choice (who they play for), but you know, maybe down the track if they want to play for Samoa, they can still do so.
“I don't know if you can say we started (a revolution), but there's a lot of sacrifices that some of Tongan players have made, Jason Taumalolo to choose Tonga over New Zealand and he's one of the few, like Andrew Fifita, another one, it’s massive for the game.
“I just hope that the next crew of Pacific Islanders that come through know that it's okay if they want to play for Tonga or Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands; to represent their humble little nation. I think it just makes for a better competition.”
While with Tonga, Kaufusi was able to see the talents of rising star Isaiya Katoa firsthand and was excited to see him push for an NRL debut with the Dolphins next season.
“He’s going to be a special talent and he’s still so young … he was still doing his HSC, so he only graduated when he was over there, he was doing his exams every now and then … he was still at school,” Kaufusi said.
“I think he’s got the world all in front of him and for me seeing him firsthand training and obviously playing – he hasn’t played NRL yet – and he was playing against grown men on the world stage. It just shows what potential he has got and I think he’s got a big career ahead of him.
“He’s got a lot of competition here, but I think a lot of competition is good for the team and keeps everyone on their toes. He has to train hard and if he can put that all together, he will be in the mix.”
With young players like Katoa bringing the enthusiasm and putting pressure on the more senior players, Kaufusi had a positive outlook for the side who were looking to create waves next season.
“We've got good players and a good enough team to try and do something special,” Kaufusi said.
“And it's just a matter of trying to gel together and … see how we go. We do have some good players … but I guess no one got any high expectations for us.
“But for us as a team, for me personally, I feel like I want to be competitive and push teams and I hope they take us lightly and we get them on their back foot and not prove people wrong, but you know, come in and don't just be another franchise team, but try to do something special.”