A gap has opened up in the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles pack and post-contact metres king Addin Fonua-Blake is looking to fill it.
Front-rowers Brenton Lawrence (retired) and Darcy Lussick (injured) are not available for round one of the Telstra Premiership against the Newcastle Knights, but Fonua-Blake is revving his engine.
He partnered New Zealand World Cup teammate Martin Taupau up front with hooker Api Koroisau against the Sydney Roosters in the club’s last NRL trial game on Saturday, and he’d like that to be a familiar sight this season. From his 22 games for the Sea Eagles last year, 21 were off the bench.
But make an impact he most certainly did.
He’s just 22 years old but at 118kg and averaging an NRL-best 5.16 post-contact metres with each carry, don’t get in Fonua-Blake’s way.
In limited minutes, he averaged 94.6 metres a game and made 55 tackle busts last season and those numbers are set to rise in 2018.
The former St George Illawarra Dragons forward was surprised – and now quite proud – that his tackle efficiency rate was at 91.8%, which ranked him second at Manly only to international forward Jake Trbojevic (92.7), not far from the leading NRL props like James Graham (95.6), Paul Vaughan (94) and Aaron Woods (93.9).
“It started when I was young playing against older cousins and older brothers,” Fonua-Blake told NRL.com when asked his secret to wrapping up a defender.
“Coming into age rep teams you keep wanting to impress like you did in the backyard. So you keep putting people on the ground.
“I’ve always liked the contact. And (Manly assistant coaches) John Cartwright and Chad Randall work really hard to make sure we have the right defence.
“I didn’t know about that (91.8%) stat. Just hearing that is pretty pleasing. I’d better not let it drop.”
Keeping that aim in mind, Fonua-Blake is not changing his style one iota.
While other props switch running lines and angles without notice, Fonua-Blake is quite single-minded.
“I’m actually a one-way man – I go forward,” he said.
“You’ve got guys like Marty Taupau and (Andrew) Fifita doing all that sort of stuff and credit to them.
“They are changing the game because no-one expects big props like us to be able to move laterally the way that they do.
“And they’re doing it so well that the younger guys coming through want to do it to.”
Fonua-Blake concedes the game for props is undergoing a metamorphosis.
“You can’t really hide in the middle anymore. With the bench changes (interchanges dropped from 10 to eight in 2016) you have to be out there for longer,” he said.
“That’s what clubs are looking for now – props that can play at least 25 to 30 minutes straight.
“The early days you could get away with doing 15 minutes out there before a rest.”
But off the field, one thing Fonua-Blake does not hide away from is his past.
As a 19-year-old he was charged with assaulting his partner – now mother of his two children – and fined $1000, given a 12-month suspended jail sentence, and ordered to do counselling.
Now as a 22-year-old he said he pleaded guilty back then because he wanted to “take ownership for what I did”. He was worked every day to make it up to Ana, his children Malachi and Aubrey, and the rest of his family.
He knows he is a changed man and a better one.
“I feel now I’ve put it behind me. My family and my partner, it’s not going to affect us anymore,” he said.
“People might think things about it when they see me, but I can’t change their opinions. Nothing can change what happened but I can control what I’m doing now.
“I like to think I’m doing the right thing at the moment and going the right way.”
One of the brightest things in his life now is being a father.
“It is the best job in the world. I can’t really explain to you how good, but nothing compares to the way it makes you feel. My kids make us a family – they are the best.”
He wants to continue his improvement as a Manly player.
“I want to do my job better for the team this year and put more minutes out there,” he said.
“I want to show (coach) Trent (Barrett) and my teammates that I’m a reliable player. The only way I can do that is keep putting my best foot forward.”