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Kiwis’ winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has found personal redemption.
Mulitalo capped off a difficult three weeks – revealing he had copped plenty of online abuse and vitriol during the Pacific Championships campaign – with a brilliant display in the Kiwis’ 30-0 win over Australia in Hamilton.
The negativity is nothing new for Mulitalo. For more than two years he has faced questions, jibes and doubts over his commitment to his country of birth, after the controversial State of Origin eligibility drama in 2021.
Mulitalo was born and raised in Auckland, playing for the Ellerslie Eagles, among other clubs, before his family emigrated to Brisbane when he was 13. He represented Queensland at the Under-18 and Under-20 levels and was called up for Origin in 2021, before being dramatically scratched 24 hours before kickoff, as a check of the revised rules found he was ineligible, due to his arrival in the Sunshine State after his 13th birthday.
That caused a media storm at the time – with many questioning the inept administration that led to the blunder – while Mulitalo was devastated.
“Heartbroken and lost for words,” he wrote on social media. “All I wanted to do was don this Maroon jersey and represent this great state.
That led to questions, when he was selected for New Zealand last year, that it was only his fallback option.
But there can’t be any doubts about his commitment now. He was a strong performer at last year’s World Cup, then had his finest match in the black and white V last Saturday, with numerous telling interventions in the stunning victory, also scoring his eighth try in nine tests.
“One of the things that tested me was people questioning my pride in New Zealand and my jersey,” said Mulitalo. “But when I set my mind to something and it means something to me, I go balls-out for it and it definitely feels like that, showing my pride in this jersey and what it means to me. I’m not just here because I’m here, I’m here to bring my game and put some pride in the jersey.
Mulitalo said he had put the “whole saga” of the Queensland episode behind him – ”I’ve moved on with my life” – even if a lot of other people haven’t.
“The whole week I have been getting abused, the whole campaign, from certain people for different things,” the 23-year-old said. “I’ve just been getting hammered, not only online. My family sees stuff like that and I just really wanted to come out with a statement. I know that this game meant so much to New Zealand in general and the game of rugby league in New Zealand. Hopefully there [were] some kids in the crowd or watching on television that saw how proud they could be of New Zealand and be in this jersey one day.”
Mulitalo was electric, particularly in the first half. Two long-range line breaks sparked the Kiwis – and the crowd – as did his celebrations after the first try, his eighth in nine tests. He also soared, AFL-style, to claim a defensive goal-line drop-out – which defused pressure at a crucial stage – and produced one of the hits of the season on Valentine Holmes, flattening the Kangaroos winger.
“I don’t even remember the hit – I just got up,” said Mulitalo. “I don’t normally tackle so it was unfamiliar waters that I was in. I got up, [carried] on like a goose and hopefully [gave] the boys a bit of a lift.”
Though the Kiwis won’t reassemble until next October – due to the NRL’s unfortunate scheduling – the memory of what unfolded last Saturday will last a long time.
“I’m super proud of the whole group,” said Mulitalo. “How we have pulled ourselves together, representing our country like that means the world to us.”
“Whether we made history, nothing mattered more than a win for us and putting pride back in the jersey and making New Zealand so proud of us. Whether we won by one point or 30 points it doesn’t matter, a win was the main thing.”
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