Solomone Kata pauses for the briefest of moments as the sun breaks through the Friday morning fog. Then he starts to smile, flashing the gold-capped grin opposition players dread when they see the ACT Brumbies cannonball coming their way.
But Kata isn't smiling because he's about to make his comeback from a hamstring injury. He's smiling because he's thinking about partner Steph and daughter Si'i. He's smiling even though he hasn't been able to hold them in five months, stranded in different countries because of coronavirus.
And the smile is bad news for the Western Force, because family absence has made Kata even more determined to make the most of his rugby union homecoming.
"Honestly, my partner is the hero," Kata says. "There are times when I'm not at training that I feel lonely and it is hard. But she's working and looking after our baby, and that's what makes me smile. That makes me work, that makes me come here."
This is the softer side of the Brumbies' 104 kilogram wrecking ball, who has vowed to be as damaging as possible when he plays his first game in four months on Saturday night.
Kata is the X-factor player rugby has been craving. His power-packed frame makes him a nightmare for anyone trying to tackle him, and it has helped him score five tries in six games since quitting the NRL to link with the Brumbies.
The Tongan beast was flying when coronavirus led to a Super Rugby cancellation in March, and stranded his family in different countries.
His dad and sisters are in regional Victoria and his brother is in Sydney, border restrictions preventing them from returning to New Zealand and Tonga respectively. His mum, partner Steph and Si'i are in Auckland, while Kata has remained in Canberra to train even when there were no games to train for.
Steph and Si'i came to Canberra for Kata's first game as a Brumby in January. They reunited in Hamilton a month later when the Brumbies beat the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on February 22.
But when they said goodbye, they didn't know they were about to start an indefinite period apart. Hugs and kisses have been replaced by video calls and photos. Family time is online time. And when Si'i calls, Kata answers.
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"If baby calls me in the gym, I have to answer. Even the staff know I'll answer," he laughs.
"I know I have to work to do, [but] I'll answer and talk to her and then tell her Daddy's going to work. And when they call, it gives me more energy.
"There have times where it's felt like it has broken me down. To be so far away and have my daughter changing every day ... that's the hard part, not being there for my daughter.
"Not being able to be there to help my partner hurts me. She understands, but it's still tough. She tells me not to worry about it.
"So we're on Facetime five or six times a day. I can see [Si'i's] attitude changing. I've watched her on Facetime ... she's a cheeky little thing. Those little things makes me smile because if I can't be there, at least I can be here to help in anyway I can."
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar spoke to Kata about the border restrictions when coronavirus details were emerging in March.
Kata decided to commit to training, even if that meant not being able to see his young family for an unknown period of time. He still doesn't know when he'll see Steph and Si'i next.
Kata is a Tongan resident, which means he cannot return to New Zealand. Steph and Si'i aren't Australian residents, so they can't join Kata in Canberra as governments attempt to restrict the COVID-19 spread.
So the Brumbies family became Kata's everyday family, filling the gaps and giving the powerfully-built winger an outlet at training.
"They've all been good. Coming to training has helped get my mind off things and if I need help, I'll ask. I hate sitting at home, that's when your mind starts to think about it all," Kata said.
Kata returns to the Brumbies' starting side this weekend, coach Dan McKellar hoping the powerfully-built winger can pick up where he left off on March 15.
Kata scored a double against the NSW Waratahs in the last game before coronavirus stopped all Super Rugby matches.
A hamstring injury delayed his return, but McKellar says he's ready to be unleashed. "If you're the one defending Sol, you're hoping he passes it," McKellar grinned.
"He's been great for us on and off the field. Didn't miss a session in the pre-season. What he's been through goes to show his resilience. It's been a challenging time for him, no one is hiding away from that.
"But he fronts up, doesn't drag anyone else down. We check in on him, but he's in a really good head space and ready to play well, and to represent his family really proudly."
Kata says Si'i is the reason he has turned his career around. His NRL days stalled after 93 games and 46 tries for the New Zealand Warriors. In his own words: "fame went to my head".
Returning to his rugby roots has given him a second chance, even if it means temporarily sacrificing time with his daughter.
"I'm loving it. I'm enjoying my footy. The thing I've got to bring for the boys is being physical. That's my game," Kata said. "I'll keep praying. One day the borders will open and I'll get to see my family again."
SUPER RUGBY AU ROUND FOUR
Saturday: Western Force v ACT Brumbies at Leichhardt Oval, 7.15pm.
Brumbies: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Murray Douglas, 5. Nick Frost, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Will Miller, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Bayley Kuenzle, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Solomone Kata, 15. Tom Banks. Reserves: 16. Connal McInerney, 17. Harry Lloyd, 18. James Slipper, 19. Ben Hyne, 20. Lachlan McCaffrey, 21. Issak Fines, 22. Mack Hansen, 23. Andy Muirhead.
Force: 15. Jack McGregor, 14. Byron Ralston, 13. Marcel Brache, 12. Henry Taefu, 11. Brad Lacey, 10. Jono Lance, 9. Nick Frisby, 8. Brynard Stander, 7. Tevin Ferris, 6. Henry Stowers, 5. Fergus Lee-Warner, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 3. Kieran Longbottom, 2. Feleti Kaitu'u, 1. Angus Wagner. Reserves: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Tom Sheminant, 19. Ollie Atkins, 20. Ollie Callan, 21. Jacob Abel, 22. Richard Kahui, 23. Kyle Godwin.