Eels junior has faith 

Lack of desire and talent have ended the careers of many hopeful professional athletes.

But for Parramatta Eels under 20s player John Fomai, it was an abundance of faith that almost cost him a contract.

Like recent Eels recruit William Hopoate — who returns to the NRL after a two year Mormon mission this season — Fomai was prepared to sacrifice fame and fortune for faith.

In his early teens, Fomai was discovered by the Eels running around in Wests Tigers territory for Eagle Vale/St Andrews in the Campbelltown junior competition.

A fullback with a Benji Marshall-like step, his knees were a ticking time bomb.

A devout member of the Emmanuel Christian Fellowship, Fomai believed pain and injuries could be healed by bathing in blessed water — similar to a baptism.

Medical intervention, even a Panadol, was prohibited.

Despite being restricted by what would later be diagnosed as a snapped ACL ligament in his left knee, Fomai continued to take the field for three years and on virtually one leg.

Incredibly, he still gained representative selection in the 2013 NSW Combined High Schools squad.

But with every hop, step and skip, his knee grew weaker.

‘‘For three years I played without getting the surgery and it was all right for me but then it started to give way too much,’’ he said.

‘‘They [the doctors] couldn’t believe I played for three years on it and made all the representative teams I did.’’

While his knee buckled under pressure, his faith remained strong.

A stand off with doctors, physios, the Parramatta Eels, and everyone and anyone who recognised his potential ensued.

However, Fomai continued to reject the surgery even if it meant sacrificing any hopes of an NRL career and a potentially large pay packet — both significant temptations for the now 18-year-old.

‘‘[Faith] has played a big part in my footy career,’’ he said.

‘‘Faith gets you through every game; believing that God gives you the strength to play and when you get injured you have to believe that God will give you the strength to recover.

‘‘That’s why I was so strong towards my faith when I got injured because God’s been there my whole career.

‘‘To betray the faith in healing now wouldn’t be right.

‘‘Sometimes it’s about the money but then you have to think about the long run and my belief is after life there’s heaven and you have to make decisions down here before you get up there.’’

Part of his faith, Fomai said, was built around respect for his elders — particularly his father, Ausitini.

Before convincing the fullback to get the surgery, medical staff and specialists had to convince his father.

‘‘Faith mixes with respect for your dad so I kind of base my faith on respect,’’ Fomai said.

‘‘I’ve always had respect for my dad and I didn’t want to betray what I had grown up to believe.’’

In another twist, it was a medical specialist who helped changed the mind of Fomai and his father.

‘‘He said in surgery you need God too,’’ Fomai said.

‘‘He knows that he can’t bring back the knee God made me and make it as strong as it was but he knows God made him too for a purpose — to fix people.

‘‘My dad understood.’’

While he hadn’t encounted a scenario like Fomai’s, Wests Tigers development manager Ben Rogers said every club had to be aware of the influence religion played in the lives of young footballers.

‘‘If you train on a Sunday, the majority of kids of Polynesian background won’t be there,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s a whole gathering, not just a church meeting [on Sundays].’’

However, for someone in Fomai’s situation, he said there was no grey area.

It was either surgery or the sidelines.

‘‘The medical staff overrule everything,’’ he said.

Fomai still stands by his decision to previously refuse the surgery and said he had drawn inspiration from Hopoate.

After a breakthrough season in 2011 which included selection in the NSW Origin side, Hopoate left the NRL for two years to complete his Mormon mission.

‘‘I felt like I wasn’t the only one in the boat; there were NRL players who go through the same thing and it’s OK,’’ Fomai said.

This story Eels junior has faith  first appeared on Parramatta Sun.


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