Mara the little-known Wellington Warrior
His panelbeating work has stalled, but Alehana Mara's league career may be set to take off.
The 21-year-old hooker from Porirua is something of an unknown Warrior, impressing in his first three NRL games late last season before injury scrubbed him out of the finals.
This year, Mara had to bide his time until round six, when coach Ivan Cleary finally let him off the leash in a loss to Manly.
He did enough to hold his spot for Monday's upset win in Melbourne, a victory which Mara hopes will ignite both his personal season and that of the team.
"This has been my best start to the season because every other year I've been at the club I've been injured," Mara said.
"I've just been lucky to not pull up with any injuries and everything is coming together."
Mara underwent off-season arthroscopic surgery on a troublesome medial ligament and to his delight he hasn't had to reach for the strapping tape so far this year.
It also means his backup career has been put on hold.
"When I was in the under-20s I was doing a bit of panelbeating and I try and get back to my old work every now and then, just to brush up on some skills. But I always end up just having a long-as lunch with the boss and next thing you know it's five o'clock and they've closed up. I try to get back in there but I'm really just focusing on league at the moment."
Mara, who played for St George and the Wellington Orcas while attending St Pat's Town, joined the Warriors as a 17-year-old and found the initial transition tough. "There were five of us that moved into a house and we were all from out of Auckland. It was a real reality check eh, being out of home and I had to do washing, shopping, stuff I had to worry about like the bills. But it was a good thing, it helped me grow up. I'm better for it."
Mara is currently operating as the club's No 2 rake behind Aaron Heremaia and both come off contract at the end of the season.
The recent signing of highly-rated Gold Coast hooker Nathan Friend for next season took Mara by surprise.
But the word out of Mt Smart is Heremaia is likely to be released with the younger Mara a good chance to be offered another contract.
"I was nervous at first but I'm trying to turn it into a positive," Mara said of Friend's signing.
"When it came, it was a reality check, that no-one is safe these days, it's about how you perform. I can't do anything about it and it is a good signing for the club and they're doing what they need to do to ensure the club's future.
"I know that's how league goes these days. But just because they've signed someone doesn't mean I can't still push hard for a spot."
Despite his inexperience, Mara looks at home in the hurly burly world of the NRL and he attributes that to on-field guidance from Aussie halves Brett Seymour and James Maloney and off-field mentoring from the injured Jerome Ropati.
"I'm loving it here. My goals are not to take a backward step and don't give the coaches a reason to drop me. Jerome Ropati has been huge in my life.
"He lives just around the corner from me and in the off-season we go training every day and just being around him, hanging out with him, we grew closer.
"He's just a guy that I'd love to be like, just a good role model off the field and when he's on the field he just goes hard. He's a great guy."
Mara boldly declared the gutsy defeat of the Storm as evidence the Warriors were title contenders.
If they play to the same level at home against Penrith on Sunday a win should follow, although Mara believed the midweek axing of coach Matt Elliott would fire the Panthers.
"We are confident but the Storm game is done and dusted and this is a new week. They'll be hurting from their coach leaving at the end of the year."
A battle within the battle will be Mara's contest with former Warriors under-20 hooker Nafe Seluini.
Both little men will be asked to spark their teams from the bench.
"Ivan just gives me a licence to roam. He likes me to come on and pick up the tempo of the game.
"He tells me when I get my opportunities to run, to take them and don't hesitate."
AT A GLANCE
Physical: 1.78m, 83kg
NRL games: 5 (debut v Manly at Brookvale Oval, 2010)
Previous clubs: Wellington Orcas, St George (Wellington)
Rep honours: NZ under-18s (2007), Junior Kiwis (2006)
Educated: St Pat's Town
The Dominion Post