NEWCASTLE Wildfires coach Scott Coleman had almost given up on Mahe Fangupo.
Fangupo, 32, will start at halfback for a second straight game when the Wildfires host perennial powerhouse Eastwood at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
The dynamic No.9 looked every bit a Shute Shield player, if not higher, in the 50-7 loss to Randwick in the season-opener.
His service was slick, he asked questions of the defence and brought his forwards into the game.
"He is a class act," Coleman said. "He is strong and can pinpoint holes. He tends to jump out at nine and looks to hit forward runners. We have changed our patterns this week to play more to his strengths and ensure we don't get isolated as much. As the weeks go on, he will identify who his better ball-runners are and who he can hit."
It took eight years and more knock backs than an 18-year-old at a wine bar for Coleman to get his man.
At the start of each preseason, Coleman would ring the former Tongan Test halfback who was living in the central west of NSW and try to lure him to Newcastle and the Hamilton Hawks.
Each phone call was met with the same response - "Thanks but, no thanks".
Coleman's brother Matt, a publican in Forbes, had "jumped on the blower about this halfback who was too good for the Central West competition".
After playing four home Tests for Tonga in 2010 as a 22-year-old, Fangupo moved to Australia and Parkes "for a better life".
He led the Boars to a premiership before moving 33 kilometres down the Newell Highway to Forbes where he starred in title-winning campaigns for the Platypi.
Coleman witnessed the clever scrum half first-hand when he was the NSW Country assistant coach in 2016.
"I knew he could play, so I chased him," Coleman said. "I rang him every pre-season trying to get him to Hamilton. Two years ago, he said, I'm settled here and won't be going anywhere."
When the Wildfires got the go ahead for the Shute Shield last month, Coleman jumped on the phone again.
"Once we knew we were in, I started ringing a few players from outside the area to try and strengthen the squad," Coleman said. "Mahe said yes straight away."
Fangupo's move is temporary for now. The Shute Shield consists of 12 rounds and the Wildfires are not guaranteed inclusion in a full 2021 season.
"It's a good opportunity to play a high level of footy," Fangupo told the Herald. "It was a difficult decision. I am a very big part of Forbes rugby and I love them. We had a little bit of success, but apart from that it is a very good place to live."
"I will see how it goes [here]. The rugby is much higher level than NSW Country and I want to test myself. This week, we will be better. We know what the Shute Shield is like now."
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