Norths Devils forward Leivaha Pulu is back loving football the way it’s normally done – train or play with friends and then head home to be with family.
It’s been that way for more than a decade for Pulu, who became a father with his wife Tolina when he was 18.
That was until last year when COVID turned the sporting world on its head and Pulu found himself in another country, unable to see his family and unable to move outside his New Zealand Warriors squad.
Pulu did his best to remain committed to the Warriors’ NRL campaign in Australia but Tolina was expecting their fourth child in Auckland and he decided to leave camp to return to his family.
“It was tough but a decision had to be made and my wife needed me more at home than I was needed in Australia,” Pulu said.
“I was off-contract with the Warriors as well but family was more important.”
Pulu returned to Auckland for the birth of son Hosea, following sister Nidis, 11, brother A.J., 8, and sister Rai, 3.
And soon the family was headed for Brisbane, where Pulu signed with the Norths Devils and reunited with coach Rohan Smith. Pulu spent much of the pre-season training with the Broncos through the Devils’ affiliation.
Pulu had worked with Smith at the Gold Coast Titans, where he played the first of his 58 NRL games in 2016 following stints in France and in the Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters’ systems.
“He is a very good coach for me because he always challenges me and he keeps football fun. I’ve kept in touch with him over the years,” Pulu said.
Pulu’s NRL debut against the Newcastle Knights was a huge step in an Australian journey that began when he was 15 years old, leaving his native New Zealand for a scholarship at rugby league nursery Keebra Park State High School.
He became a regular with the Titans and then the Warriors before a series of injuries affected his playing time.
Pulu did not take the field for the Warriors last season, meaning the Devils’ season-opener against the Brisbane Tigers on Saturday night will be his first match in 18 months.
Plenty has changed since then – the six-again rule is the most obvious tweak since Pulu’s last game.
“It’s great to be playing again,” Pulu said.
“But this time without playing has helped me to focus on what’s important in my life.
“My family are the best thing in my life. I’m grateful for my family.
“And my faith is very important to me. It teaches me to be a better person and it teaches me to put others first.”
Pulu will join a Devils pack that includes hooker Danny Levi, who also spent last season in the NRL, Broncos teenager Brendan Piakura and Devils regulars Michael Sio, Brendan Frei and Michael Molo.
“It’s been a good off-season and we can’t wait to play,” Pulu said.