THERE were around 30,000 Hull FC fans celebrating Mahe Fonua’s crucial involvements in last year’s Challenge Cup final success – but there could be an extra special supporter at Wembley tomorrow as he looks to repeat the feat.
The explosive Tonga winger, who scored one try and helped create the other in that 12-10 comeback win over Warrington Wolves, has just become a father for the first time.
His baby daughter – who could be the club’s youngest attending fan as she turns just two weeks old tomorrow – may take in her first game when the holders bid to retain their trophy against Wigan Warriors.
“We’ve had a little baby girl and I am enjoying fatherhood,” said Fonua, who missed the win at St Helens a fortnight ago as his wife went into labour.
“I’m still a bit new to it all so am probably just riding cloud nine at the moment. If you ask me this question in three months I might give a different answer. But, at the moment, me and my wife are really enjoying it.
“She’s pretty easy going at the moment, my daughter; she only wakes up to eat, feed, have her nappy changed and then back to sleep so she’s in a good routine.
“Thankfully my wife’s willing to do the stuff in the middle of the night, so there’s not been too many sleepless nights, and we do take turns. But our baby girl’s doing really well and I’m stoked to be back at Wembley, too.”
This is no surprise; Fonua enshrined himself in Airlie Birds’ folklore by helping Hull finally win there for the first time in 87 years.
In his first season of English rugby league after joining from Melbourne Storm, it proved a career highlight and one he now hopes to emulate by backing up against Cup kings Wigan.
Hull announced in May that they would release Fonua from the final year of his contract for family reasons to allow him a return to Australia in 2018.
We’ve had a tough run facing Castleford and Leeds so it’s really good to be going back and having the chance to defend our trophy.Hull FC’s Mahe Fonua
He will play for Wests Tigers – where Hull captain Gareth Ellis spent four years – next season, but always indicated his hope to add more silverware before heading home. Given the East Yorkshire club are back at Wembley and also firmly in the running for a first Grand Final since 2006, things are certainly going to plan.
Fonua admitted: “We’re heading in the right direction being a part of it this week.
“Also we’ve got Gaz (Ellis) who’s retiring at the end of the year so it would be great to send him out the way he deserves with some more silverware and I’d love to go back with another Challenge Cup medal, at least, too.”
Did he consult Ellis about Wests, where the ex-Great Britain back-row became a club legend before joining Hull in 2012?
“I didn’t speak to him leading into making the decision,” explained the 24-year-old.
“I kept it tight-lipped as it was a decision I made for my family. We knew at the time we were going to have a baby and that’s the main factor why we decided to go back.
“I didn’t speak to many people about it, mainly my wife and from there made that decision.
“I’m very grateful for the boys, though, the way we’ve performed in this Challenge Cup run.
“We’ve had a tough run facing Castleford and Leeds so it’s really good to be going back and having the chance to defend our trophy.”
Although Fonua played centre 12 months ago and earned a Dream Team spot there, he has played the majority of his 24 games this term on the wing.
Admittedly, he was back at centre in last Friday’s defeat against Huddersfield Giants, but, now with a full squad for Lee Radford to select from, says he will line up out wide against Wigan.
Asked about his preference, he insisted: “I’m not fussed.
“At the start of the year I was a little bit. I’d played a whole season for the club at centre and then to start this year on the wing I had to get back into the swing of things.
“But now I’m feeling alright on the wing and I’m just lucky to be on the field; we’ve got some good players who have had to miss out this weekend so I’m really very, very pleased to be in the squad.”
Wigan are renowned for their pedigree in this competition and have beaten Hull all three times they have met in the Wembley final, most recently in 2013.
Fonua said: “Wigan are definitely a very strong team and very successful. They are the current Super League champions and we don’t expect anything less than 100 per cent from them.
“The difference between them and Warrington is Wigan probably have more key dangermen.
“They have some really strong forwards, some guidance at the back with Sam Tomkins and then you have George Williams and Tommy Leuluai leading them around the park.
“They’ve a good team from one to 17, but if we each do a job on our opposing number we’ll take another step in the right direction.
“This time, too, we’ll know the ins and outs a bit more about Wembley – not playing the game too early in our minds and getting lost in the moment.
“We’ll probably pull the handbrake a little bit Saturday, play it all slow and go in with a bit more knowledge from last year.”