From being ‘done with footy and done with the Melbourne Storm’ to returning and now writing his name into the record books forever.
That has been the journey of centre Young Tonumaipea, who last Sunday became the first Victorian to play 50 games for the Storm in the club’s 25-year history with the promise of more to come.
It's a milestone he thought was set to elude him when he departed the club in 2018 on 43 games to complete a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany.
He then had stints with the Gold Coast Titans and in Super Rugby playing for the Melbourne Rebels before finding his way back to the Storm midway through last year.
He has now reached 50 games, which is nine long years since he first made his debut playing alongside now retired legends Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
Dragons v Storm: Round 25
“To get to 50 games, and also to get 50 games at Melbourne Storm is a big feat I reckon,” Tonumaipea told NRL.com.
“I’m very grateful to get it done and also to get the result (last Sunday), you can’t beat that.
“Of course it has been a very long journey to the 50. I left the club five years ago when I was on 43 and I was always a bit bummed at the time I never reached the 50.
“But then, as the world works sometimes you find your way back home so I am very grateful to get there."
Young Tonumaipea seals the win
Tonumaipea is the first to admit he never thought the day would come before rediscovering his passion for rugby league and the Storm in the years he spent away from his hometown club.
“When I left, I thought there was no way I’d ever be back here,” he said. "I was done with footy, done with the Melbourne Storm and I was ready for the next chapter.
“But sometimes when you have a bit of a break and have some time to reflect, you find that fire re-spark in you and I was happy to come back home.”
The 30-year-old said he hoped he was the first of many Victorian products to play 50 games for the Storm.
“I grew up in Melbourne in the northern suburbs playing AFL and soccer first, but to be from Melbourne and to play for the Melbourne Storm is definitely possible,” he said.
“That’s why I hope other Victorian kids can see that.”
Tonumaipea's form in the centres has been solid and he'll need it to be with the likely return of star Ryan Papenhuyzen in the coming weeks meaning that fullback Nick Meaney will shift to the outside backs.
The 30-year-old will have another chance to build on his recent form when the Storm meets the Dragons on the road on Saturday night.
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Tonumaipea took a goal kick from the sidelines at the game’s end last Sunday in a bid to convert his own try and bring up 50 points for Melbourne, but the shot missed narrowly.
“The boys were yelling at me saying ‘you kick it, you kick it,’” he laughed.
“I certainly wouldn’t have been taking it if the game was on the line.
“I used to kick back in the day, but the kicking boots have been put away for a long time.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised the centre’s performance against Canberra and said the club was proud of his journey to 50 games.
“He had a couple of errors in the first half but to his credit he didn’t let that sort of faze him at all,” Bellamy said.
Tonumaipea grabs a quick double
"He just kept running hard and I thought he had a great game, and it’s great to see him score a try at the end.
“It would have been nice to kick that goal from the sidelines, I didn’t know he could kick that far or that accurately as it didn’t miss by much.
“It would have brought the house down if he kicked that, but we’re really proud of Young.
“Our club’s 25 years old and he’s the first player in Melbourne that's played 50 games for the Storm.
“And how far his games have been apart…he made his debut in 2013 or 2014 so to play his 50th in 2023 sounds unbelievable.
“He obviously left us for a while, but to come back we’re really proud of him.
“Hopefully we can produce a few more in the years to come.”
Match: Dragons v Storm
Round 25 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong