Storm's Tonumaipea to quit NRL for faith

Melissa Woods
Melbourne Storm back Young Tonumaipea will leave the NRL club in July to become a missionary

The door at the Melbourne Storm remains open to utility back Young Tonumaipea, who will quit the NRL club in July to follow his faith and become a missionary.

But history doesn't favour Tonumaipea making a top-line return to rugby league.

A devout Mormon, Tonumaipea shocked the Storm by announcing his plans to leave after the State of Origin period for a two-year mission in Germany despite having a year and a half to run on his contract.

The 25-year old premiership player, who has played 40 first grade games since making his NRL debut in 2014 and has made four appearance this year, will use the time to teach his faith and conduct service in communities.

Storm boss Dave Donaghy said he was surprised by Tonumaipea's decision but admired his courage.

"I find it incredibly admirable that you'd walk away from your career when you're really in your peak - in your mid 20s - and particularly given how hard he's had to work," Donaghy told SEN radio.

He plans to meet with the Victorian-born player following their bye this weekend but said if Tonumaipea kept fit he still had "plenty of footy in him".

Tonumaipea isn't the first player to walk away from the game because of his faith.

In 2012, then-Manly player Will Hopoate left to take up a mission in Queensland.

He left as a NSW State of Origin player and although he is now a regular first-grader with the Bulldogs, his NRL career has never scaled the same heights.

Canberra's Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana played five games for Gold Coast in 2008 before heading to England and Wales for a mission but it took six years, including a stint in Super Rugby and bush rugby league, for him to play another NRL game.

Backrower Lagi Setu quit the Broncos to also follow his faith to England and after his two years unsuccessfully tried to resurrect his career with Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters.

Caleb Timu was a junior Bronco but returned to rugby union after his mission and this week was named in the Wallabies Test squad.

Tonumaipea, who represented his native Samoa at last year's Rugby League World Cup, hasn't made clear his future plans but said he's learnt that football isn't everything.

He said that there was no pressure from his church to be a missionary.

"No-one is forcing me or anything but it's something I want to do," Tonumaipea said.

He said that the values he'd learnt since joining the Storm out of school had contributed to his decision to leave.

"That service, and and to give back to less fortunate and putting a smile on a kid's face who won't have the opportunity to play rugby league has added to the decision.

"I'm looking forward to the two years of trying to do that - serve the community and putting a smile on family's faces."