Most days of the week Kotoni Staggs hears his phone goes off and he’s got a good idea what the message will be before he even looks at it.
The Wellington Cowboys junior is preparing for what could be a massive season both personally and for his Brisbane Broncos but his home town is never far from his mind.
It gets tough at times, thinking of the family and friends hundreds of kilometres away, but the support from Wellington and pride in living out his dream in the NRL drives him on.
“Not a day goes by where I don't get a message from someone telling me how well I'm doing and to keep working hard,” he said.
“I love knowing how much support there is and how many people are watching what I'm doing.”
Staggs burst onto the scene last season when he scored a try on his NRL debut in the round 11 clash with the Sydney Roosters.
A huge crowd from Wellington was there that night and mobbed Staggs after the game in one of the most emotional and enduring images of the Broncos’ season.
He went to play another eight times in the NRL and but also found plenty of time to get back to his hometown during 2018.
He attended a number of Wellington Cowboys games at Kennard Park while he was also fortunate enough to spend his Christmas and New Years holidays back out west.
“I love getting back there and seeing family and friends and getting away from footy. You don't have to think about footy always and it's great to get back and just be refreshed,” Stagss said.
The time away made him all the more focused to cement his status as one of the most exciting youngsters in the game this year.
The first target for Staggs, who is comfortable in the centres or the back row, is to nail down a place in the Broncos’ 17 each week.
Lining up in the centres would be ideal, according to Staggs, but he’s also more than happy to become a versatile option off the bench again after new Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold confirmed it was an option.
“I'd love to always be in that starting team but just being in the 17 is the goal,” Staggs said.
“The role on the bench is something that I'd also look forward to but I've just got to keep training and impress the coach.
“I'm adapting pretty well and getting along with 'Seibs'. The opportunity Wayne (Bennett) gave me is something I'm really thankful for but now it's about getting to know new coaches who you're going to work with for years.”
I love knowing how much support there is and how many people are watching what I'm doing.Kotoni Staggs on his home town of Wellington
Pre-season and build-up to the round one clash with the Melbourne Storm may be in full swing, but at this time Staggs’ focus is on the looming NRL All-Stars clash at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on February 15.
The make-up of the Indigenous All Stars squad was voted on by the fans and Staggs was shocked to learn he’d been selected.
He’ll now be part of a side loaded with talent for a monumental clash with the New Zealand Maori side.
Staggs attended a previous edition of the All-Stars match on the Gold Coast when he was still living in Wellington.
Getting the chance to now line up in the match is a real point of pride, for both Staggs and his home town.
“I got the call from (former Bronco) Jharal (Yow Yeh) and he told me congratulations. I didn't know what he was congratulating me for but he told me the All-Stars team had been selected and I was in,” Staggs said.
“I was stoked to make it and I'm a big believer in culture and it's something I've dreamt of doing, playing at the highest level and playing for the Indigenous All Stars.
“Culture is really important to me. I'm really proud to give something back and represent that.
“The thing that is going to stand out to me the most is doing that dance. The corroboree dance with the others will be something special and I'm looking forward to doing that.”
Staggs, who is currently living with fellow Wellington junior Will Lousick while he trials with Redcliffe, is part of a squad of 20 for the All-Stars match.
The All-Stars squad also includes two more Wellington products in Blake Ferguson and Tyrone Peachey.
Ferguson and Peachey are both at new NRL clubs in 2019, Parramatta and the Gold Coast responsively, after off-season switches.
Both those sides finished inside the bottom three last season so the focus for the Eels and Titans in 2019 is development and improvement.
Staggs and the Broncos have much more lofty ambitions than that.
Staggs is part of an exciting and tremendously young group coming through at Brisbane, the likes of Tevita Pangai Jnr, Joe Ofahengaue, and Jamayne Isaako primed to take the NRL by storm this year.
The excitement around those players, as well as the experience provided by the likes of Darius Boyd, Andrew McCullough, and Matt Gillett has many Broncos fans feeling positive about the new season.
“Every team's goal at this time is to win the premiership,” Staggs said.
“Our team looks strong across the park but we've just got to make those semis. Once we do I know we can give it a really good crack.”
The All-Stars match at Melbourne’s AAMI Park will kick-off at 8pm on Friday, February 15.