Ben Nakubuwai is back on the path to the NRL, using the stories of players who have travelled before him as motivation ahead of Sunday’s Intrust Super Cup clash between Norths Devils and Burleigh Bears.
Nakubuwai will wear the Devils jersey at Bishop Park for the first time after an impressive debut for Norths in away wins over Souths Logan and Northern Pride.
Nakubawai scored both Devils’ tries in the rain in Cairns two weeks ago including a vital 73rd minute try when he collected Calum Gahan’s dummy-half pass, spun in a tackle and planted the ball.
Five minutes later, the Devils celebrated as Bryce Donovan’s field goal stretched their unbeaten start to the season after five rounds.
Nakubawai has tasted NRL action with two appearances for the Gold Coast Titans in 2017. The powerful forward had a stint with Salford in the UK before returning home and drifting out of football briefly while he worked and studied.
A few weeks after his 25th birthday, Nakubuwai is focused again on his football career and aiming to return to the NRL along the path that hooker Danny Levi took a few weeks ago when the Brisbane Broncos took him from Bishop Park.
“I was really happy for Danny that he was signed by the Broncos and he’s not the only one who has gone from the Intrust Super Cup to the NRL a bit later in their careers. There are plenty of stories like that,” Nakubuwai said.
“If you put in the work, anything is possible. But my goal is to establish myself in the Devils team because there is a high standard at the club.”
Nakubuwai is from Fijian football royalty – his father Pio represented his country in rugby union and league. Pio and wife Eseta moved to Australia and their three boys grew up in the New South Wales country town of Leeton.
Nakubuwai started playing soccer aged six and then followed his father into rugby union in Leeton. He only switched to league aged 14 to play with his mates.
It didn’t take long for scouts to come knocking and Nakubuwai was soon in the Melbourne Storm system and playing with the likes of Jake Turpin, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Devils teammates Brendan Frei and Tony Tumusa.
Nakubuwai and Frei trained with the Brisbane Broncos in the off-season and played together with Tumusa last month in the clash with Souths Logan at Davies Park.
Nakubuwai is the eldest of three boys and his brother Pio has also moved to Brisbane to play with the Redcliffe Dolphins.
Nakubuwai is proud of his family and its football connection, noting his gratitude to be able to follow his father into the Fijian national team.
“I was blessed to get that opportunity and I was determined to make the most of it,” he said.
The Devils return to the field on Sunday after a weekend off with a bye. They are now set up for three consecutive games before the next bye.
The Devils and Burleigh have a history of entertaining matches in recent years and coach Rohan Smith expects another close match on Sunday.