After five weeks out of the side, Storm centre Justin Olam made a notable return to the NRL last round against the Broncos, reinvigorated by a recent trip back home to PNG to visit his mother.
After injuries earlier in the season dented his confidence, prompting coach Craig Bellamy to send him back to find form with the Sunshine Coast Falcons, Olam has been working hard at his game – and while others might have dropped their heads, the powerful centre knows there’s more to life than just football.
“I am very close to her,” Olam said of his trip to see his mother, Evelyn. “I don’t see her a lot and when I am not playing (NRL), she gets a little bit upset and worried. I just had to go and tell her everything is okay. I went back to see her last week.
“PNG mothers are different; they want to see if their kids are okay.
Match: Broncos v Storm
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
“I was okay, but she was upset (so) I had to go and see her. She was worried, not because I was dropped, but she wanted to check if I am doing okay mentally.
"She has the understanding that getting dropped is hard. It is just another challenge. I have been through stuff.
“Coming from PNG, it is never easy playing NRL so I went back to reassure her that I have got myself together and am doing what I can to play first grade again.”
Olam, who came through the pathways in PNG, firstly as a Lae Snax Tiger and progressing to play for the Hunters in Queensland’s Cup competition before being signed by the Storm, Olam said he took Bellamy’s feedback on the chin.
He knows there are no guarantees despite his strong performance in the Storm’s 32-22 win in Round 27.
“He told me I needed to work on a few things. I said, ‘thank you’. I have zero ego,” Olam said.
“I am happy some of the boys have got their opportunities and are playing well. That is what life is about. My focus has been to go back and work on what I can control, which is training hard and working on the things I can improve on.
“In saying that, I have got a few injuries this year which slowed me down a little bit, but it is what it is I guess.
“My mentality was to see it as a challenge and not be a victim. My focus has been to go back and play well in Cup. I think it is a good lesson.
“I have got a big fan base in PNG, especially young kids. Life is not going to be smooth every time. For me to go through this is good. If they are watching … there is going to be setbacks. It is how you react to it and pick yourself up.”
Olam bringing the hits
With Ryan Papenhuyzen's return, and the eye-catching debut of Sua Faalogo, who have both been playing with the Falcons, Olam was more focused on celebrating the team’s successes.
“We always have the next man up mentality (at the Storm) and it's about seizing the opportunity,” Olam said.
“(They were) resting some people, but to some players, it's the opportunity to show the coaches, ‘hey, I'm here!’ and so it was good to see the boys playing really well.
“And now that our (senior) boys are rested, they can have a good game (in the finals).”