Two-time Junior Kiwi Braden Hamlin-Uele was 24 years of age when he belatedly nailed down a regular NRL berth. But the hulking front-rower’s breakout 2019 campaign with Cronulla saw him fast-tracked into the New Zealand Test side.
The Glenora Bears product joined Sydney Roosters as a teenager in 2013, playing for the club’s SG Ball and NYC teams before reuniting with former Roosters under-20s coach Paul Green at North Queensland in 2015. Hamlin-Uele represented the Junior Kiwis in 2014 and ’15.
After toiling in the NYC for the Cowboys and Queensland Cup with Mackay Cutters, the 22-year-old powerhouse made his NRL debut in 2017 as an interchange against the Roosters. But that would be his only appearance in the top flight for the Townsville outfit before he signed with the Sharks.
Hamlin-Uele spent most of 2018 playing for NSW Cup feeder club Newtown, featuring in just one NRL game for Cronulla. But after almost giving up on his NRL dream during the off-season, he secured a place on the Sharks’ bench early in 2019 and enjoyed a superb season.
Boasting outstanding footwork and mobility for his size and fine ball skills, Hamlin-Uele was a constant headache for opposition defences. He scored four tries, racked up 50 tackle-breaks and averaged over 100 run metres in 21 games.
A calf injury ruled Hamlin-Uele out of New Zealand’s World Cup Nines squad, but he recovered to be available for the Kiwis’ subsequent Test campaign. The game-breaking prop received a debut call-up for the clash with Australia in Wollongong, playing 23 minutes off the bench in a 26-4 loss. Joseph Tapine’s return to the line-up edged Hamlin-Uele out of the match-day 17 for the two Tests against Great Britain.
In a Cronulla pack hit by injuries and the exit of representative forwards Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, Hamlin-Uele was a mainstay in 2020. He was one of only two players to feature in all 21 games for the finalists, while he bulldozed his way over for six tries, made 52 tackle-breaks, and averaged 96 metres and 22 tackles per game in a superb follow-up to his breakout campaign.
Hamlin-Uele passed his 50-game milestone with the Sharks in 2021, making 19 appearances and scoring one try – which he followed up with a memorable WWE-style celebration that dominated highlight reels – before being named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup at the end of the season.