Family has guided Tony Tumusa’s rugby league journey, taking him from Auckland to Melbourne to France and now to the Norths Devils.
This latest step in the journey comes with a heavy heart. Tumusa is back in Australia to be closer to father Iele Tolupeni, who is struggling with a heart condition.
Tumusa, 24, says his father’s courage in the face of the terminal condition is sustaining him as he prepares for a return to the Intrust Super Cup.
“He’s living in Melbourne and I try to get there as often as I can. That’s what keeps me going,” Tumusa said.
“If he can fight through what’s he’s fighting at the moment, then I can fight through anything.”
Tumusa has six sisters and two brothers, most of whom live in Melbourne with his father and mother Ma’auga, who have been together for 26 years.
They came from Auckland to Melbourne after Tumusa had completed school at renowned rugby union nursery Kelston Boys’ High School.
Tumusa was chosen on the wing in the First XV team in Year 11, catapulting him along the path to senior football.
But his hometown New Zealand Warriors didn’t offer Tumusa a contract for their Under 20s program, enabling him to head to Melbourne when his family moved for lifestyle reasons.
There, he would resume a rugby league career that he began aged nine with the Point Chevalier Pirates.
He joined an Altona Roosters Under 18 backline with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at five-eighth and two-season Devils prop Jamayne Taunoa Brown at halfback.
Tumusa progressed to the Melbourne Storm Under 20s program before heading north for stints with the CQ Capras and Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup before France beckoned last year.
“Playing in France was the best experience I’ve ever had with rugby league,” Tumusa said.
“I was playing football fulltime and I was able to go there with my young family, which was a special time for us all.”
Tumusa’s young family includes fiancée and former Australian women’s boxing champion Dawn Berryman, their daughter Baleigh, 2, and son Klaus, 1
Tumusa and Berryman met while he was in the Melbourne Storm program and she was winning bouts, so sport has been a common bond between them.
Those Melbourne connections included Devils backrower Brendan Frei, who urged his old teammate to join him at Norths when he decided to return to Australia.
Frei’s advice is paying off for Tumusa, who has revelled in the Devils’ set-up since joining in the off-season along with former Redcliffe teammate Bryce Donovan.
“I wanted a club where there was love for the players. I asked Freisy and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown because I played with them in the 20s in Melbourne and they couldn’t have spoken more highly of this club,” Tumusa said.
“There are no groups in this club. It’s one club and that means a lot to me.
“Rohan made me feel welcome the moment I came here to look at the facilities. I had trained here with the Junior Kiwis a few years back and coming here again, the place just looks different. It’s a real footy club and I can’t wait to start playing.”
Tumusa’s aim remains to secure an NRL contract and he hopes that his performances as an outside back at the Devils can take him there.
“My goal is to focus on what I can control. I still want to play NRL but I’m firstly looking to play as well as I can this season for Norths,” he said.