Hospitalised PNG Hunters talent Jokadi Bire has been described as "a brilliant young kid with his life ahead of him" by Kumuls icon and Melbourne Storm spearhead Justin Olam.
Bire, who remains in a Gold Coast hospital after major surgery earlier in the week, was previously labelled "The next Olam" for his aggressive stye and robust physique.
The 21-year-old centre suffered a medical episode at a Hunters gym session at Runaway Bay and was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery.
The Hunters have been keen to ensure patient confidentiality and downplay the incident, meaning Olam didn’t have precise details of what had transpired.
"I’m not sure what’s going on, but he’s like a little brother to me," Olam said after Melbourne’s 66-16 thrashing of Wests Tigers.
Match Highlights: Storm v Wests Tigers
"We’re from the same province in PNG. I caught up with him just a few weeks ago. I know what it’s like to be from that background and away from family and home.
"I just care about him. I’m going to keep him in my prayers and hopefully visit him soon."
PNG Hunters coach Matt Church, who previously worked for the Storm, said that Olam had reached out to check on his young countryman.
"Justin’s been in touch. He wants to visit him as soon as it’s feasible," said Church.
"Everyone’s rallied around Jokadi. Today he’s been able to sit up and acknowledge his teammates.
Bellamy backs 'next level' Finucane to fill Trbojevic's spot
"It’s a big adjustment, not just from a medical perspective. It’s the first time Jokadi has been in a medical facility of this size.
"Justin’s had a bit on his plate this week with the Storm game on the Sunshine Coast and all, but we will sort something out to get them together."
The ramifications of the incident are likely to go beyond the Hunters, with extra safeguards likely to be discussed.
Added health screenings, on par with those received at NRL level, are on the table for discussion.
Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation general manager and PNG Hunters director Jeremy Edwards said there was a chance to make positive change from a harrowing week.
"We need to be committed to making good, long-term adjustments in the interest of the athletes and the game," said Edwards.
"This year the PNG Hunters have been based in Australia and received a level of medical care beyond anything in the past. In many ways, we can be thankful for how this was handled.
"At a time of COVID, we are all perhaps more mindful of wellbeing and health issues.
"Jokadi’s care is the priority at this stage, but beyond that, there will be other conversations."
Just days before he was rushed to hospital, Bire played for the Hunters against the Norths Devils.