‘I have finished off Mosese’s dream for him’
MOEAKI Fotuaika hurts ... every day.
It is not the pain of a Titans training session, or the sting of the bone-crunching tackles the boom 18-year-old prop felt in his NRL debut against Canberra last Saturday.
This pain cuts deeper. Strikes him right in the heart. A pain to which few can relate. A pain that has left Fotuaika with part-motivation, part-frustration as he searches for the answers he knows will never come.
It is five years since his older brother, Mosese Fotuaika, tragically took his life during a stint with the Wests Tigers. He was 20.
It was a tragedy that rocked the rugby league world, triggering a concerted NRL push to get serious about the mental health issues afflicting the code's rising stars.
Moeaki was 13 when he received the phone call that could have broken him interminably. For a while, it did. But here he is, stronger for the pain.
When Fotuaika runs out to face the might of the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium, he will be upholding the NRL dream for a brother he wishes was still here.
"Not a day goes by when I don't think about him," says Moeaki, speaking for the first time about Mosese's tragic suicide.
"When I run on to the field, I look up to the sky and remember him, then I look back down at the ground and I say, 'Game on'.
"Every day he is not here hurts. You don't expect to lose a family member in that way, but I just hope he and my family are proud that I've made it in the NRL.
"It definitely means a lot to be playing first grade. I want to carry on what my brother left behind. I just want to make him proud."
As kids growing up in the New Zealand town of Gisborne, Moeaki could not have envisaged losing Mosese. Theirs was a typical brotherly bond that involved football and mini-brawls in the backyard.
When their parents moved to Australia in 2007 to give their sons a better shot at life, Mosese fashioned an NRL dream. For Moeaki, the fire within had also been lit.
They both attended Keebra Park High. They had ambitions to play NRL together. Now only Moeaki remains, his life's journey altered by the events of February 28, 2013.
"Things have never been the same for me since that day (when Mosese passed away)," he said.
"I remember finishing training one day. I had all these missed calls from my sister-in-law. I rang her back and in her voice I could tell she had been crying.
"When I got back to the house, she told me the news of what Mosese had done."
Moeaki said he has never shed so many tears.
"I just cried and cried, couldn't stop," he said.
"At the time, I didn't really understand what Mosese was going through.
"Since I've grown older, there are things that he went through and I have gone through it myself. I wouldn't say I have gotten to that point (suicide), but I've had my mental demons. I've had a few setbacks in football but I always try and stay positive about life.
"I never had counselling. I was probably too young, but my parents did it really tough. As I've gotten older, I have tried to learn more about the mental side of stuff.
"To be honest, who knows what happened that day and why Mosese did it? Only he knows what made him do what he did.
"I wish I could change it, but I can't."
Mosese's legacy still endures through Moeaki.
After his funeral, Moeaki was given Mosese's football boots and trophies. On his days off, Moeaki regularly drives to Mt Gravatt cemetery where he visits the site of his brother's burial.
"I just hang out there," he said. "I don't really say much when I'm there. I just sit there and think of all the memories and good times.
"I think about the times he would bash me in the backyard footy games. Mum and dad would come out and punish him because he was older. I laugh at that.
"I've got some of his possessions. I've got his boots and some of his trophies from his career.
"I keep it in my living room at home and use it as inspiration to do well for my brother."
When coach Garth Brennan announced Fotuaika's debut last week, Titans players roared with delight and piled on top of him. That's what he means to the Titans squad.
"The boys love Mo," Brennan said. "He's just a lovely kid, but he can play the game too. For an 18-year-old, he is as tough as nails.
"I don't say too much to Mo about his brother, I don't like stirring up too many emotions, but I'm really impressed by his maturity. He could have easily been lost to the game after what happened."
Brennan believes Fotuaika can be a 10-year player at the Titans. Moeaki just hopes to be around long enough to uphold his brother's legacy.
"I'm glad I got the chance to play NRL, I feel like I have finished off Mosese's dream for him," he said.
"When he passed away, he didn't get the chance to play NRL and that was a motivation for me.
"I thought 'OK, it will be my turn one day hopefully'. I hope Mosese is looking down on me thinking, 'Bro, we did this together'."
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