Coming of age

IRONIC nicknames, particularly in the sporting world, are an Australian tradition.

Tall blokes are "Shorty", bald fellas are "Curly", redheads are usually "Bluey", and so on.

Though it was initially bestowed as an abbreviation of the Polynesian pronunciation of his surname, Richard Fa'aoso's nickname of "Fuss" follows the same theme.

The 23-year-old wrecking ball, who has exploded off the bench in Newcastle's season-opening victories over Canberra and Manly, epitomises the phrase no-nonsense.

Trying to prise a few words out of the painfully shy prop is as tough as trying to tackle him.

Fa'aoso would prefer to let his on-field feats of strength speak for him, like when he powered through Manly brothers Brett and Glenn Stewart to score the try that sent last Saturday night's barn-burner at EnergyAustralia Stadium into extra time.

In his assessment for the Sun-Herald last Sunday, leading league analyst and former NSW Origin coach Phil Gould said the try, after Fa'aoso had bombed one a minute earlier was "a nice break for a really good young bloke".

"You could see him thinking, 'Why does it always happen to me?'," Gould wrote.

"Two minutes later he steamed onto a pass, smashed through two defenders and scored to send the game to golden point. The Knights won. See, the football gods do smile on good people, occasionally."

The journeyman forward was voted players' player after Newcastle's 13-12 golden-point triumph but had little to say when interviewed at the after-match presentation.

"I haven't really won anything like that before. It was the first time I've ever won man of the match so I'm not really used to talking about it," Fa'aoso said yesterday.

"I'm not much of a talker. I really don't know what to say.

"I'm happy with the way we've started. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing, hopefully pick up no injuries, and keep being consistent."

The Knights are Fa'aoso's fifth club in as many seasons, after stints at Penrith (2004), the Roosters (2005), English club Castleford (2006) and Parramatta last year.

His last game for the Eels was the 2007 Premier League grand final, which they won with a last-minute try to Weller Hauraki one of several former teammates Fa'aoso will line up against at Parramatta Stadium tomorrow night.

Before he bounced from club to club, Fa'aoso was one of the most promising junior talents in the game. Though born in Queensland, he played for NSW under 19s then NSW Residents in the curtain-raisers before Origin I and Origin III at Suncorp Stadium in 2003.

He earned Junior Kangaroos selection for internationals against a Papua New Guinea President's XIII in Darwin and Port Moresby in October that year.

Some of his junior NSW and Australian representative teammates included future internationals Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Creagh, Greg Bird, Ryan Hoffman and Sam Thaiday.

Fa'aoso represented Tonga in Tests against Samoa, England and France in 2006 and has an eye on the World Cup in Australia at the end of this year.

"I've played with a lot of boys who have kicked on and played first grade for the last couple of years and gone on to play rep footy, and I've been in the shadows a bit, so I think it's just time for me to step up," said Fa'aoso, whose partner Tori and 11-week-old son Lisiate are moving from Sydney soon to join him in Newcastle.

"I think I've matured off the field and that's made a difference. I'd like to make Newcastle home because I feel really comfortable here."

Fellow front-rowers Danny Wicks and Ben Cross say Fa'aoso is just as quiet around teammates.

"He's probably one of the humblest blokes you'll ever meet in your life," Wicks said.

"There's a beauty to him that can only be appreciated if you're one of his mates. He's just such a quiet bloke and a lovely fella and he's playing really well."

Cross was to have been one of Fa'aoso's NSW Residents teammates in 2003 but missed the match due to a suspension arising from his NRL debut with Canberra the previous week.

But Cross stayed in camp and got to know Fa'aoso, then crossed paths with him when the Raiders beat St Marys-Penrith in the Premier League grand final that year.

"He was always a strong ball carrier and all that sort of stuff," Cross said.

"He had a bit of a chequered career after that, going to Penrith and the Roosters and overseas, but hopefully he's found a home here."

Coach Brian Smith has kept tabs on Fa'aoso for five years and was keen to include him in his rebuilding plans at the Knights.

"Once you start looking for him, he's not hard to notice, as everybody in Newcastle is starting to find out," Smith said.

Smith said Fa'aoso had not always stayed focused on football at previous clubs but his attitude had been exemplary since arriving in Newcastle.

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