Growing up on the east side of Christchurch post-earthquake in a household struggling to make ends meet is starting to feel like a distant memory for the highest-scoring rookie the NRL has ever seen.
Six years ago Jamayne Isaako had just finished his first season of first XV rugby with Shirley Boys’ High School. Now the 22-year-old has just finished the NRL regular season as its top points scorer and is the favourite to win the Dally M rookie of the year title.
More impressively his haul of 233 points for the Brisbane Broncos has seen him become the highest scoring rookie player in Australian rugby league’s 111-year history.
On Sunday, Isaako’s Broncos side host the St George Illawarra Dragons in a must-win opening week finals match. At the rate Isaako is gaining accolades, helping lead the Broncos to a seventh premiership can’t be written off.
At the weekend the winger/fullback recorded a 20-point haul including a try, six conversions and two penalty goals in the Broncos’ 48-16 win over the Manly Sea Eagles.
The effort saw him finish just ahead of Sydney Roosters’ centre Latrell Mitchell (228). Isaako also finished the competition with more conversions than any other player (94), ahead of Melbourne Storm star Cameron Smith (88).
“After I converted one of the tries one of the guys said: ‘Latrell scored a few points last night you need to score as many as you can’. It sort of got me worried because I had missed a couple of kicks before that . . . when I scored the try and converted that I had a feeling I was in front.”
The path to Isaako becoming the NRL’s newest star began in 2012 when he was spotted by a Cronulla Sharks scout while playing for the SBHS first XV as a year 11.
“I was playing at a time when the earthquake had happened. Footy was a chance for me to move away from home and try to make a name for myself and get picked up. At the time my family was struggling and I just wanted to be one less mouth for my mum and dad to feed,” said Isaako.
After impressing on a trial with the Sharks he was signed to a three-year deal the club. However, before progressing through the junior ranks he returned to Christchurch due to home sickness which saw him play for the St Bede’s College first XV in 2013 where he led the team in points.
“I moved over on my own and just found it really tough at one stage . . . Cronulla came knocking again and wanted me to go back to Sydney. They promised me a lot of things which never really happened which led me to come to Brisbane.”
Growing up in Aranui and spending his early schooling days at South New Brighton School idolising Dan Carter and the Crusaders, becoming a star in the NRL with the Broncos is a journey he couldn’t have imagined at the time.
“It’s an unreal feeling. I’m just blessed and grateful that I’m able to do what I love week-in week-out on the big stage and everything is going really well at the moment.”
Isaako’s first dabble in the 13-man code was with the Aranui Eagles. He played as a teenager occasionally for his uncle’s team when rugby commitments didn’t interfere. He has now recently signed a new deal with the Broncos for the next four years, but is open to the idea of returning to play union later in his career.
“I would love to play rugby [union] again. I wouldn’t mind coming back home at some stage in my career.”