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Storm centre Justin Olam

Justin Olam is now one of the game's most feared centres but well into last year he was scared of making a mistake as his career hit a brick wall.

It was a 14-12 win over the Roosters in Adelaide in round 15 last year, when he was up against Joey Manu, that proved to be "a turning point" in his football fortunes.

It also set the PNG international on the road to his ultimate goal of emulating former Storm premiership winner and countryman Marcus Bai.

Next Friday night he will line up against the Canberra Raiders in the preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium as the ultimate warrior centre, like his childhood hero Steve Matai.

After playing the early part of 2019 with the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup he didn't let his first NRL game that year become a wasted opportunity.

"Last year when we played the Roosters in Adelaide I had a contract but I thought like I wouldn't be re-signing anything," Olam told

Olam beats Manu to secure a double

"I felt like I was holding back and not playing without fear. I was scared that I wasn't making an impression and that if I didn't play well I would be dropped.

"That game in Adelaide was a turning point. I was aggressive in defence and I ran the ball hard.

"I was up against Joey Manu. I wouldn't say I got the better of him but I like to go up against a good centre like that. I got confidence out of that and it was the first time I really felt comfortable because I wasn't scared to make a mistake.

"I feel like I belong now but there are moments where I feel like I have a lot of work to do."

In Olam's mind, that work he has to do is also part of a divine plan that has been mapped out for him.

"My main goal this year is to get a premiership ring and make this finals series count. That is what Marcus Bai did," he said.

"He set the standard. There is a reason why I am here at the Storm and I believe in the Lord and that he has a plan and a path for me.

"One day I want to help kids back in PNG but now I want to stay healthy, play well for the club, and get that ring. That would be the icing on the cake."

The 26-year-old has now re-signed with the Storm until the end of 2022 and is valued by coach Craig Bellamy as a player who would run through a brick wall if asked. But when he was growing up in rugby league-loving Papua New Guinea he never thought he would play NRL let alone be on the cusp of a shot at a premiership.

Jovial Stuart trying to claim underdog status against old friend Bellamy

"At primary school we would play touch footy with a coke bottle and we would put dry, dead grass in there to make it heavy so it wouldn't get blown away by the wind when we kicked it or passed it," he said.

"For someone to have a rugby league ball was a big thing. Everyone would follow them around and pass and kick it.

"I actually never owned a rugby league ball. In a village there would only be one and it would be really smooth because the grip would come off from everyone continuously playing with it. It would be really slippery.

"I grew up in a village called Gon. I never thought I would play NRL. My parents were not big on it. Education was the big thing. There was no real pathway where you could see a career in rugby league."

Olam said he would play for his village team for fun only taking the game more seriously in his first year of university.

Two stellar seasons with the Lae Snax Tigers in the Digicel Cup followed and at the end of 2015 he won selection in the PNG Prime Minister's XIII to play the Australian PM's team.

His career was kicking off when he joined the PNG Hunters in the 2016 Intrust Super Cup competition, the same year he graduated from the PNG University of Technology in Lae with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics.

"I'd played about five games for the Hunters and I was training when the CEO of PNG Rugby League at the time Bob Cutmore called me in," Olam recalled.

"Bob said 'We have got a phone call from the Storm' and I just said 'What?' By then I had a goal of playing NRL but I wasn't expecting anything in my first year. I thought it was too early.

"I was on a train and trial in Melbourne and I thought 'This is enough for me. I don't need a proper contract'.

"To be honest I couldn't believe I was a part of an NRL team like the Melbourne Storm. It was too much for me. They had dominated the NRL for a decade and I knew there were going to be standards that I had to live up to.

"It was after the Pacific Test when I had made my debut for the Kumuls that they offered a two-year rookie contract.

"When I started I had two elite centres in front of me – Will Chambers and Curtis Scott – and it was hard to go up against them and compete with them."

After making his debut in 2018 Olam soon got a taste of the high standards set by coach Craig Bellamy and remembers well an early "spray" like it was yesterday.

World Cup 9s Player Focus: Justin Olam

"I was playing the Gold Coast and I put a kick in and they got a seven tackle set," Olam grinned.

"Craig said to me after the game, 'You don't practise that at training so don't do it on the field'. The funny thing is I had practised it and Smithy [Cameron Smith] stood up for me and said 'I have seen him do it at training'. Craig said 'That's all good then, but next time make sure you execute it'.”

Bellamy, after early doubts, now regards Olam as his executioner in chief on the left edge.

"Justin has been with us three years but in the first 12 to 18 months I don't think anyone saw NRL in Justin,” Bellamy said.

"All of a sudden with what he learned and the hard work he put in to bringing those basics into his game…he flourished really quickly. It looked like it was going to take ages or not even happen.

"From what I have seen he is probably going as good as most centres in the game at the moment.

"He is unique with his abilities. With that stocky frame he is strong and nothing scares him. He would run through a brick wall or jump off a cliff if he had to. That is what we really like about having him in our team."


Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.