Aussie schoolboy links with Tigers
HE MIGHT have been born in New Zealand, but Ipswich rugby league sensation Thomas Mikaele is proud to be Australian raised.
Having already been named a 2015/16 QT-City of Ipswich junior monthly sportstar, Mikaele has earned himself a second nomination in 12 months, this time as a senior award winner.
A fierce Queenslander who has enjoyed a massive year on and off the field, Mikaele said moving to the rugby league-mad city of Ipswich had been the perfect fit for the 115kg forward.
"I fancy myself as Australian,” he said. "I'm NZ born but Australian at heart.
"Australia is home. I've spent 10 years here, first in Durack and then my family and I moved to Redbank. We love it here in Ipswich.”
At 18 years old, the Keebra Park State School student has already twice brought victory to his adopted country, as an Australian schoolboy representative.
After helping Australia to victory over his former New Zealand countrymen last year, Mikaele returned to the green and gold to take on the touring England Academy.
Despite handing out a 50-12 thumping to the visiting Englishmen, the 180cm forward described the contest as one of his biggest challenges to date.
"They were big and tough,” he said. "I wasn't expecting them to be so physical. Those games are the toughest I've been in.
"There's a lot of pressure but once you get out there you just leave it all behind.
"After beating New Zealand last year I felt very fortunate to make it the second time in a row. We were in camp for about two weeks ”
Now with his final school days fast approaching, Mikaele has earned himself a contract with the Wests Tigers NRL club.
Preparing to fly down two days after graduation, the former Goodna Eagles junior can't wait to test himself in a whole new environment.
"I know it'll be tough,” Mikaele said. "But it will be different and I am looking forward to getting that feeling of independence.
"I know a lot of blokes from Australian schoolboys who are down there and I've got a place in Sydney with a few of the other guys who have come down from Keebra Park.
"I'm sure my parents will miss me but I'll visit whenever I can.”
Confident that rugby league has taught him to be self reliant, Mikaele said he owed a lot to the sport he loves. "I wouldn't be the person I am now without rugby league,” he said. "It has made me a mature person and given me a sense of leadership.
"I enjoy being role model to some of the younger guys and I think it has given me a fighting mentality.”
Already well used to juggling his extensive playing career with school study, the gentle giant hopes to continue his education while in Sydney.
"I'll be doing a lot of training but I am also looking to go study in business,” he said.
"It's something I've been really interested since I've been in high school and I'd like to take that further.
"I did a short camp with them at the start of the year and I was just in awe of the guys down there.
"It's pretty cool seeing guys like Aaron Woods and those guys.
"I've followed the Tigers ever since I came over to Australia so I'm looking forward to doing a full pre-season there.”