Switch … NSW-born Feleti Mateo. Photo: Getty Images
FELETI MATEO is so determined to force his way into the NSW Origin side that he has sacrificed the opportunity to represent Tonga at this year's World Cup.
Mateo has played eight Tests for Tonga and was expected to skipper the Mate Ma'a at the end-of-season tournament but his decision to change allegiances in order to play Origin has ruled him ineligible. Unless he makes the Australian team, Mateo will miss the World Cup in Britain, Ireland and France as players can apply to switch allegiances only once between tournaments.
''I have just decided to back myself,'' said Mateo, who will have his first opportunity to impress Blues coach Laurie Daley when he lines up for the NRL All Stars team at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. ''I had always played for Tonga and the rule was that once I changed I couldn't go back, so I thought that if I did that and didn't get picked then I would rule myself out for Tonga and I didn't want to do that but now I have decided to go that path.''
A 2003 Australian schoolboys representative, Mateo played for NSW under-19s and the Junior Kangaroos the following season before making his debut for Tonga in 2006.
A Parramatta junior, Mateo represented City in the annual clash with Country in 2008 but selectors were later told not to choose him as he was ineligible to play for NSW until he changed his national allegiance from Tonga to Australia.
''I have always wanted to play State of Origin and to play for Australia but I probably just didn't feel that I was ready,'' he said. ''But now I feel like it is my time and it could be a possibility when it comes around this year. I have put in a good pre-season, so I just have to play some good footy once the season starts and hopefully my name gets tossed up.''
Off contract at the Warriors this year, Mateo will be in strong demand if he is playing well but the 27-year-old said he was happy playing for the Auckland club.
With his family in Sydney, he would not rule out returning and St George Illawarra are the latest club to be linked to the ball-playing back-rower or five-eighth. ''I love New Zealand, that is my home now, but I am trying to keep all of my options open,'' he said. ''Having said that, I am loving my time at the Warriors and I feel like I have been playing some good footy at the club.
''I have played over 100 NRL matches now, so I am trying to take on more of a leadership role this season.''
After a disappointing last season, Mateo said the mood at the Warriors under new coach Matthew Elliott was optimistic. ''The off-season has been outstanding and it was probably what we needed over there,'' he said.
''Matt Elliott has really instilled some discipline and a lot of the boys are becoming more accountable for their actions. I think that is what we lacked at times along with some consistency. We just weren't all on the same page last year … ''