Mulitalo finds peace in Kiwis call-up

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Ronaldo Mulitalo describes the last year of his life as a "wild ride".

And anybody who has followed the Cronulla winger's career will know very little has been straightforward.

"We're finally here and I'm pretty excited," he says ahead of his Test debut for New Zealand against Tonga this Saturday. "To pull on that Kiwis jersey will be something pretty special."

Where exactly "here" is, takes some explaining.

Mulitalo has returned to Auckland - the city in which he was raised by his mother Vaega - for the first time in three years.

When Ronaldo and twin Lorenzo were 13 she uprooted their lives in the suburb of Otara and moved to Queensland in a bid to improve the boys' chances of an NRL career.

"There wasn't much opportunity for us coming up in New Zealand and that's not being disrespectful," Mulitalo tells AAP.

"Maybe at the time, I wasn't good enough or hadn't developed in certain ways.

"My family made sacrifices and backed my ability to succeed and that's why we moved over to Australia.

"I think I really built my toughness and thick skin growing up in New Zealand.

"It's a resilient place and although I moved to Australia, Auckland will always be home for me."

It's a move which has paid off. Mulitalo is still just 22 but has 37 tries in 52 NRL games and his form led to a call-up from Kiwis coach Michael Maguire for New Zealand's first home Test since 2019.

Maguire has been keen on having Mulitalo play for New Zealand for some time, but it's only by chance that the winger will don black and not the maroon of Queensland this weekend.

This time last year it was Origin II and an injury to Reece Walsh meant Mulitalo was poised to make his Maroons debut.

But despite playing junior representative football for the Maroons, he was deemed ineligible for senior Origin on the grounds he hadn't played in Queensland before turning 14.

No issues had been flagged during his junior career and it led to the NRL and the Queensland Rugby League trying to apportion blame on one another as the winger was ruled out less than 24 hours before kick-off.

Mulitalo was caught in the middle.

"I feel like I handled it pretty well," he says.

"I don't want to play a blame game, me and my family can't do anything about it to bring us happiness.

"I have always kept it pretty tight and the people close to me know what was going on in that situation."

Even a year on, Mulitalo is bombarded with questions about his eligibility when he goes for a meal.

He's used the last year to study for a qualification in counselling and has had guidance from Maguire and long-time New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson throughout.

Johnson, a former teammate at Cronulla who was overlooked for the Tonga Test, was one of the first people to congratulate Mulitalo when he was selected for the Kiwis last week.

"I remember seeing Shauny play for the Kiwis when I was a young fella and I admired him with the cameras around him and the spotlight he was under," Mulitalo said.

"I would've been nine or 10 and I was at a holiday camp where they take you to watch the team train.

"I was completely starstruck seeing him and guys like Simon Mannering and thinking to myself: 'Holy, man'.

"The first game I remember watching was the game when James Tamou switched his allegiance from New Zealand to Australia.

"It's crazy to think that I'd be on that international stage as well. It's something I never thought would happen."

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