Penrith star Brian To’o grew up in a small three-bedroom fibro house in the western Sydney suburb of Mt Druitt with his six siblings and their parents, Fati and Fale.
“There were two of us in each room and Mum and Dad ended up sleeping in the loungeroom,” To’o said.
It’s an example of the sacrifices by his Samoan-born mother and father that prompted To’o to use his NRL earnings to buy them a house and also influenced his decision to play for the Pacific nation at the end-of-season World Cup.
“My parents are obviously the biggest influence on my life,” To’o said. “They have always been there for me and bought me up to be the man I am today, so I am very grateful to my parents.
“Giving them the house is just a little way of saying thank you for everything that they have done for me.”
To’o’s mother Fati, in particular, played a key role in his development into arguably the game’s No.1 winger.
Ahead of this weekend's Women In League round, To’o paid tribute to Fati and his fiancé Moesha Crichton-Ropati, who he proposed to just minutes after helping Penrith win last year’s grand final against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.
Each week, Fati - from whom To’o says he inherited his beaming smile and bright nature - would drive Brian to training and games as he pursued his dream of playing in the NRL.
“Me and my siblings, we didn’t have much but Mum and Dad really made sure we had everything we needed,” To’o said.
“Playing footy was something that was obviously really important to me and mum really made it her priority to make sure I got to training and games ever since I was young.
“Mum was the driver, and she was the only driver in the house, so she made those little sacrifices to make sure I got to training on time and made sure I got home safely.”
To’o said Moesha had also helped him to achieve the success he has with Penrith and NSW.
Brian To'o proposes to his girlfriend post-match!
“I am really grateful to my beautiful fiancé, she has been my drive and my motivation since the day I met her,” he said. “She loves and cares for me, and makes sure I put everything into my work and do everything right.”
The other female To'o adores is his sister Dannielle, who passed away after a short battle with cancer in 2008 and whose grave he regularly visits.
Despite some of the hardships he and his family faced, To’o said they were always happy and appreciative of what they had.
“I’ve got three brothers and three sisters. There were three bedrooms and I used to share a room with my older siblings,” he said. “Mum and Dad didn’t mind sleeping in the lounge, they were just really grateful for the roof over our heads.
“It is those little sacrifices, like that, that really make me want to give back to my mum and dad and make sure they have a bed to sleep on.”
To’o has been working towards his goal of buying his parents a house since making his State of Origin debut for NSW last year.
The 23-year-old put his match payments from the 2021 series towards a deposit and has continued adding money until finally announcing last week that he had purchased a house for Fati and his father, Fale.
“It was a really special moment for myself, and the fact that at a young age I am able to buy my parents a house is just a moment to step back and look at how far I have come,” he said.
“To give back to my mum and dad, I am really proud of what I did to buy my parents a house.”
Faith, family and the big the heart of Brian To'o
Asked about his decision to declare his allegiance to Samoa over Australia at the World Cup, To’o said it had been a difficult call but one made from the heart.
“Family and culture is everything to me and it is pretty beautiful what we can do by representing my Samoan heritage,” he said.
“I love my people and I will always play for my people for free any time of the day. I am really grateful to not only be able to play for my family and friends on and off the field, but everyone here at the Panthers club and also Samoa, as well.”