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Sunia Turuva tried to avoid his family all week in fear of emotionally breaking down ahead of his starring Test debut for Fiji Bati on Saturday night.

Around 80 of his nearest and dearest met at Campbelltown Sports Stadium to cheer on an emerging Fijian star who has endured a difficult two-year period while living out his rugby league dream.

The Turuva family lost their western Sydney home and prized possessions in a house fire in 2020 before the 19-year-old’s mother Salote died suddenly in September last year.

Turuva started a fundraiser to try and help his family financially while his mother’s passing was acknowledged by Panthers coach Ivan Cleary during the 2021 Telstra Premiership final series.

On a Panthers development deal last year, Turuva was unable to be with the premiership-winning side based in Queensland due to squad limits imposed and border restrictions.

Sunia Turuva with some of his family after his Test debut for Fiji Bati on Saturday night.
Sunia Turuva with some of his family after his Test debut for Fiji Bati on Saturday night. ©Supplied

Considered the next likely NRL debutant in Penrith’s star backline, Turuva played the biggest game of his life thus far, scoring two tries and running for 252 metres in Fiji’s loss to Papua New Guinea.

His extended family all wore custom-made T-shirts with a photo of his late mum, almost bringing the recently re-signed Panthers young gun to tears before kick-off.

“Even when they were messaging me throughout the week saying mum would be so proud I was trying to hold it all in,” Turuva said.

Nothing but love at fulltime

“I tried to avoid the family but it was good, it was pretty special [they wore shirts]. I would’ve loved for mum to be here. She was my number one supporter. The last two years have been pretty crazy.

“The family here on both mum and dad’s side got me through it, and the Penrith boys, they were the reason why I decided to re-sign with them.”

Turuva said he only knew around six players in Fiji’s squad prior to going into camp last week but now leaves with new mates and a Test debut that’s left him craving for more at the top level.

“That was the highest level of footy I’ve played to be honest, walking out for the national anthem I had to soak it all in,” he said.

“I was telling myself the whole week to not change anything from Penrith footy to international footy.

“It took us a solid two days to get to know each other. The hymns really brought us together, singing and making fun of each other, it was a good week.”

Turuva will now turn his attention to pushing for an NRL debut in the Panthers’ star-studded backline with selection a possibility in round 18 given the club’s high Origin representation.

Match Highlights: Papua New Guinea v Fiji

“Obviously Dylan [Edwards] is there [at fullback] and he’s killing it at the moment with consistent footy,” Turuva said.

“Ivan really hasn’t said anything but just wants to keep me grounded and make sure I’m doing well in Cup and not get complacent.

“It would mean a lot to debut. Playing for Fiji is a big thing but an NRL debut would be nice with the boys out there I came through with in the juniors, it would be pretty special.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.