I used to watch players such as Lesley Vainikolo and Shontayne Hape in a star-studded Bradford Bulls team of yesteryear and crave for athletes of a similar level to come to Hull FC.
All too often previous hierarchies would buy players past their prime or debilitated by injuries. Thankfully those days seem to be over, and since Adam Pearson and Motu Tony’s arrival in a management capacity for the club, the Airlie Birds have continuously improved with recruitment levels. The departing Mahe Fonua arrived as a relatively unknown quantity from Melbourne Storm, heading to Hull to prove himself with regular game-time. It’s safe to say that the powerful winger has not only done that, but also left an indelible mark on the place.
Life at the KCOM wasn’t always as free-flowing for Mahe as it is now. Starting on the wing against Salford, he picked up a knee injury in the early stages of the game meaning he would be sidelined for six weeks. On his return, he found himself playing at the less familiar centre role next to another fans favourite in Steve Michaels, current incumbent Carlos Tuimavave had been shifted into the halves as Lee Radford faced early season injuries. Fonua’s early season form mirrored the team’s as he worked his way back to fitness. Scoring in THAT famous 22 -20 victory over the Dobbins, Fonua’s Hull career ignited just like the team did in 2016 and beyond.
This was when we saw the Tongan international spring to life with a series of big-game performances. Perhaps this sums up the calibre of player he is; a natural match-winner and it’s not a luxury Hull have had for a long time.
Game-breaking players are exciting to watch and Fonua’s got it all. Blessed with pace, power and inherent athleticism; you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do with the ball. In a similar manner to Fetuli Talanoa, he also drives the ball upfield akin to a forward and attributes like that are vital in close games. When you consider how he quickly developed an almost telepathic relationship with wing-partner Stevie Michaels, some of the play on the pitch was mesmeric. Personal highlights include length of the field efforts against Catalans and Wakefield as well as countless aerial tries. Of course we couldn’t go without mentioning the Challenge Cup at this point.
Marc Sneyd will deservedly go down as the man of the moment for our Challenge Cup successes in 2016 & 2017, he was immense. However, Fonua played his part in both with two tries in each final with some exquisite instinctive play. Mahe can create chances where there’s seemingly no space to make one and it’s these fine margins that win cup finals. 30 tries in 52 appearances demonstrates just how lethal he can be. That gold-tooth grin that was broadcast across TV screens will be sorely missed around the KCOM Stadium and you can’t help but smile too when he celebrates a try with such emotion.
2017 has been a year of mixed emotions for the bulldozing back. Naturally, such a big impact would attract interest from the NRL and after much speculation, it was announced in June that Mahe would be leaving to join Wests Tigers. Much like his fellow leavers this season, a change of destination for 2018 hasn’t altered his focus whatsoever and that’s a testament to the team chemistry and Coach Lee Radford.
Fonua would probably be the first to say he’s had inconsistent games this year, sometimes he’s probably tried too hard to redeem himself. The key part in that sentence is that he’s always tried hard and no Hull fan is likely to criticise him for effort. Radford has shown great faith in him over the last two seasons and he has been duly rewarded. His new club have a potential NRL star in their ranks, whilst his replacement Bureta Faraimo has massive boots to fill for FC.
Fonua has captured the hearts of the Old Faithful on and off the field and it’s no coincidence that success has bred with his contributions on the field. He has taken the decision to put family first which is a mark of a man and we wish him well in the future. Who knows, one day he may choose to link up again with a club he loves so much.