When Sarah Togatuki runs onto the field for NSW in tomorrow night’s State of Origin clash with Queensland, the words of her late brother will be echoing in her head.
Junior Togatuki took his own life in jail five years ago, but the last time he met his little sister proved a turning point in her life.
“Junior was a good footy player but he fell in with the wrong crowd,” 23-year-old Sarah explained.
“He ended up taking one for his boys by going to jail.
“I was playing netball at the time but was pretty bored with it.
“He said to me ‘If you don’t like it, why not play rugby league?’.
“We come from a Samoan background and contact sport was frowned on in our culture.
“But I decided to follow Junior’s advice and give it a go.
“It wasn’t easy – I couldn’t tell my parents because they would not have allowed me to play so my cousins helped me out.
“Whenever I went to games or training, they would say I was going out with them or studying – my parents had no idea.”
But Sarah, a strongly built second-rower, quickly became a star in her new game of choice and when her Glenmore Park Brumbies team made the grand final in her maiden season, she decided to tell her parents her ‘dark’ secret.
“They were shocked and upset,” she said.
“But when I told them I was doing it to remember and honour my brother, they kind of understood.
“Now they have come to accept it and come and see most my games.”
Sarah was on the bench for NSW last year – a game the Blues lost – and she has set herself a goal after being selected in the starting side this time around.
“Last year I played with an injury and looking back, I was selfish,” said Sarah, who now plays for St Marys.
“I shouldn’t have played but didn’t want to let the opportunity pass me by.
“I got less than 10 minutes and didn’t do much so I was shocked to get chosen again.
“Now is my chance to show I deserve to be there.
“I’ll be running out onto the field on the Sunshine Coast hoping to make my brother proud.”
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