On the prowl: Penrith recruit Eto Nabuli. Photo: Geoff Jones
When Brad Fittler lured Fijian giant Eto Nabuli to the Penrith Panthers, he never envisaged having to tackle him.
It's an incredible twist to an equally compelling story, with Nabuli's Panthers a possibility of lining up against Fittler's Roosters at the Auckland Nines in the finals of the tournament this weekend.
Fittler discovered Nabuli on a trip to Fiji with Andrew Johns in 2012, recommending him to Penrith supremo Phil Gould.
Nabuli spent last season playing in the NSW Cup for the Windsor Wolves, but on Saturday at Eden Park he will kick-start his career in the limelight, but Fittler is hoping it's not at his expense.
"That's a bit scary," Fittler said of the prospect of lining up against Nabuli. "Hopefully if we do come up against each other he'll give me an opportunity, he'll give me something.
"He would have been the first player I'd have chosen at Penrith. I've been out to training and I've seen him play. He's great. That grand final [last year] was brilliant and there was a bit of focus on him. He lived up to the pressure."
History: Brad Fittler discovered Eto Nabuli. Photo: Getty Images
Nabuli, who was working as a hotel porter at the Intercontinental in Fiji at the time, was unaware of the identity of the two men interested in his services, admitting "I didn't know they were superstars here in Australia".
The 24-year-old comes from a rugby sevens background and had not played rugby league before his chance encounter with Johns and Fiitler.
"He was always going to be discovered," Fittler said. "His attitude was fantastic. I get updates from Gus, Ronnie (Palmer) and Ivan (Cleary). Nothing has changed. He goes hard at everything he does. I think he will be great [at Nines]. We saw that in the (NSW Cup) grand final last year. He might've dropped a bomb but he scored two tries. He'll suit the style of play."
Nabuli, who lived with Fittler and his family at Rushcutters Bay when he first came to Australia, said "I will try my best to run around him" when asked of the prospect of lining up against the man who changed his life.
Fittler and Nabuli, who is expected to make his NRL debut this season, are still in regular contact.
Fittler believes Nabuli's attitude is what will hold him in good stead when he eventually does breakthrough to the NRL.
"We could tell he was a leader amongst his own people in the job he did," Fittler said. "The way we did drills, the drive he had. Talking to people at Penrith, nothing has changed. He's still driven, and he's a tough kid."