How a newfound maturity has made Reds hooker a Wallabies bolter

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Alex Mafi credits a maturity forged in foreign surrounds for the improvement that has led to him becoming a World Cup bolter.

The Reds hooker continues to hold teammate Brandon Paenga-Amosa out of Queensland's starting XV despite the latter having become a Test player last season.

Invited into the Wallabies latest camp, Mafi is in contention for a gold jersey during The Rugby Championship as Australia hones its squad for Japan.

The 22-year-old has made enormous gains this season, something he attributes to enjoying the game more following a stint in Japan's Top League with NTT Shining Arcs.

"At the back end of last year I went over to Japan and I've come back this year with a bit of a refreshed mindset and sort of appreciate what we have here and just being here at home," Mafi said.

"From my experience of being away and now coming back home, I'm just embracing being able to play in front of my family and in front of my friends.

"Being able to train here with guys I've been training with in previous years, just all of that that maybe in the past I took for granted.

Alex Mafi celebrates a try against the Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images

"So this time around, I just really have looked to enjoy all the little things and I think that really has influenced how I've been  going on the field."

A family gathering for Mafi would usually include a minimum of 30 people, so finding himself alone in Japan was a growth experience that has had a "ripple effect" that has extended to his game.

"I think I definitely matured a lot. I went over there on my own and got to learn a lot about myself," he said.

"Being in isolation for six months without the family that I'm used to, I had to grow up a little bit and do things on my own and that really helped me.

"Just normal things in life that really had a ripple effect on performances."

While he played in the same team as relative Amanaki Mafi and reunited with his brother now living in Japan, Mafi was exposed to a culture and responsibilities he had never before experienced in a life-changing period.

"I think maybe all I knew was here in Brisbane and I hadn't had any exposure to anything different," he said.

Alex Mafi makes a charge in the Reds' win against the Sharks in Durban. Photo: AFP

"Being able to sort of go out and see things from a different perspective and come back home has been really good.

"I'd love to go back, it's an awesome culture there, really good people and it was really good."

Since returning, Mafi has learned to enjoy his football - both in training and game situations - something that has translated into outstanding performances.

"I've just been trying to enjoy things more. I've seen that ripple effect into my performances on the field," he said.

"I think I've started to enjoy myself more out on the field and that's had an influence on how I'm playing."

It led to an invitation into Wallabies camp and strong feedback from coach Michael Cheika on where his game could improve.

"I was very happy to get that call-up to come and join them in camp. It was really nice to go and meet everyone and see how things are done up there and it was nice to be in the mix of that calibre of player," Mafi said.

Reds hooker and Wallabies aspirant Alex Mafi. Photo: Getty Images

"I had a good chat with Cheik and also Simon (Raiwalui), the forwards coach.

"It was good to be told what are some things I need to work on, what are some things I've been doing well. A bit of vision working forward, it was really good."

But it is the Reds and their season-ending clash against the Brumbies that are at the forefront of Mafi's mind as Queensland looks to back up last week's win against the Blues.

"We haven't beaten a New Zealand for a handful of years now and to have that win, especially an 80-minute performance, it's really good for us to have some reward after a tough handful of weeks," he said.

"We're all looking forward to going down (to Canberra). It will be a bit chilly but we're looking forward to going down there and testing ourselves again.

"We had a good game against them the first time around and we'll be looking to back that up."

The Reds take on the Brumbies at Canberra's GIO Stadium on Saturday, June 15, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, live on Fox Sports and via radio.