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Some days when he returns from training to his small rented house in Melbourne, Eliesa Katoa still yearns for the comforts of life back with family in Tonga.

He's getting used to it now, having been away for seven years after first packing his bags for New Zealand at the age of 16 to take up a rugby union scholarship, an opportunity that gave him the chance to change the futures of his entire immediate family. 

Since then he's worked tirelessly to not only become an NRL regular, but a back-rower who through the first three months of this season has been one of the best in the whole competition. 

Life as a frontline player for the Storm these days means Katoa has become his family's main financial provider, a role he knew he wanted to take on from the moment his father passed away back in 2012.

It's the knowledge of what he's doing for his family back in the Kingdom that gets him through the tough times. 

"It’s still a bit hard and sad at times. It gets a bit lonely here without the family," he tells

Although I miss them every day, I am the main provider for the family, so I have got to do what I have got to do.

Eliesa Katoa

While his time in Auckland softened the transition, the sheer size of the population he finds himself part of in Victoria's capital city is still a huge change for the now 24-year-old, whose home village of Hihifo has only around 300 residents.

The move was also helped by having his mum and three siblings come to stay with him for three months last year, something Katoa had been trying to do ever since he made his NRL debut with the Warriors back in Round 1 of the 2020 season. 

"I finally got them here to Melbourne last year with the help of the club. They stayed for three months and that was their first time leaving Tonga," he explains. 

"It was great to see them out here and they got to watch me play a couple of games last year which was good.

"But I think the big move for me was from Tonga to Auckland. Going there with only a little bit of English, having to adapt to the environment with no fams as well, that was pretty hard.

"Auckland was not home for me; Tonga is home to me. That first move was the hardest one."

It's also helped being at a club like the Storm where the majority of the playing group have moved interstate or overseas to be there.

"I was at the Warriors and it’s such a great family club there, but moving here it’s a different level," he says. 

There’s only Youngy (Young Tonumaipea) and Sua (Faalogo) who are from Melbourne, so everyone has moved here from different cities, and it makes us boys tight as a group.

Eliesa Katoa

"We don’t really have family here to spend a lot of time with, it’s more just us every day, so even on our days off we are catching up for coffees and that."

The Mate Ma'a Tonga representative goes into this week's bye in scintillating form, with six tries in 11 games and a glut of career-best performances already under his belt in 2024. 

Eliesa Katoa Try

Having not played an elite senior match prior to his debut for the Warriors in Round 1 of the 2020 season, Katoa is very much still learning the finer points of the game and the full extent of coach Craig Bellamy's expectations.

"I am just a bit more confident with how the system works and the boys around me this year," he says. 

"Last year was adapting to how they play the game and in Melbourne everything is about the effort areas, which I learned when I got here."

Next month Katoa returns to Auckland for the first time since departing the Warriors at the end of 2022, with the Storm in action against his former side at Go Media Stadium in Round 15. 

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours 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.