Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue and his girlfriend Sofi Leota who has this year been battling breast cancer. Pics Tara Croser.
Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue and his girlfriend Sofi Leota who has this year been battling breast cancer. Pics Tara Croser.

Cancer struggle shows he’s no average Joe

JOE Ofahengaue's new-found perspective has catapulted the Broncos prop into the best form of his career as he chases grand final redemption.

Ofahengaue will tackle the Dragons in Sunday's sudden-death final at Suncorp Stadium with the belief Brisbane can go all the way to the NRL premiership decider.

Ofahengaue has burst back to life in 2018 after battling through two of the toughest seasons of his fledgling career.

The Queensland Origin contender came on to the first-grade scene in 2015 and his 14th NRL game was the epic grand final loss to North Queensland.

But he was limited to 16 appearances for the Broncos in each of the next two seasons following the emergence of young forwards such as Tevita Pangai Jnr.

Ofahengaue, 23 next week, has since transformed into one of Brisbane's most important forwards, injecting energy from the bench and only missing one game in 2018.

His best season has coincided with partner Sofi Leota battling breast cancer, and Ofahengaue said he didn't have to look far to find perspective.

 

"I'm feeling good," Ofahengaue told The Sunday Mail ahead of his seventh finals match.

"At the end of the day it's just a job. You've got a real life when you go home.

"Coming here takes away that thinking that I do when I go home. I love spending time with the boys. This is my little getaway. We can do something pretty special."

While starting prop Matt Lodge and the destructive Pangai Jr have been sensational for Brisbane this season, Ofahengaue's impact cannot be understated. He has averaged 50 minutes a game, 119m and 26 tackles, and could have easily been picked for Queensland to make his Origin debut.

Sunay's final will be his 70th appearance in the NRL and Ofahengaue said he was starting to feel comfortable in the big league.

"I'm going out there and owning my job," he said. "It's a tough job.

"Every week you've got to match other middles in other teams that take pride in their job. We make the most tackles and runs.

"I'm trying to do own my job and focus on my own role, which helps the other boys do the same."

 

 

Brisbane Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue (left) speaks with coach Wayne Bennett.
Brisbane Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue (left) speaks with coach Wayne Bennett.

Ofahengaue's resurrection has come after he struggled to cement a spot at the Broncos for two seasons. He admitted he missed the mark after his dream introduction to the NRL ended with a heartbreaking grand final loss to the Cowboys.

"With that team I had an easy job and failed a couple of times to do my job," he said.

"Trying to get back into the team was my main focus, then we signed a player like Tevita Pangai who is awesome for those short stints. It was hard to get into the team after that.

"When I went back to (Intrust Super) Cup my form wasn't as bad as everyone was saying.

"I was playing consistent footy and punching out good minutes. It was just hard to get back into the NRL and find my place in the team again.

"Having Blairy (Adam Blair) leave and some of the other older boys retiring opened up a few spots for me last year.

"I knew I could get my spot back this year and I've stayed in the team since. I'm happy with how we're travelling."

Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue and his girlfriend Sofi Leota. Picture: Tara Croser
Broncos player Joe Ofahengaue and his girlfriend Sofi Leota. Picture: Tara Croser

Broncos legend Darren Lockyer, captain of Brisbane's last premiership team in 2006, said Ofahengaue had matured into a critical component of the team.

"Joe has been outstanding this year," he said. "I like the maturity in his game and it's one reason he was considered for the Origin team.

"The big thing is Joe's not making errors.

"With young guys in a team, sometimes you have to accept that they will make mistakes as part of their journey but Joe has been disciplined and is giving them impact."

Ofahengaue's life is now more than just hit-ups and tackles.

Sofi has eight rounds of chemotherapy remaining before possible radiation treatment, and her battle will go on beyond the last day in September.

 

Joe Ofahengaue has found perspective in his life.
Joe Ofahengaue has found perspective in his life.

"Sofi makes it easy for me when I get home," Ofahengaue said.

"She has her bad days, but what good is it for me to go home and ride the lows? I try to lift her spirits when she's having her bad days.

"I can get annoying at times but I make sure I'm persistent and try to keep her happy. She is doing awesome. She's never made me feel like she wants to do it alone.

"She always makes me feel like I need to look after her and hopefully I'm doing the right thing.

"I feel like I am."

 

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