He once served as an on-field bodyguard for Mitch Moses but in Saturday’s NRL semi-final Junior Tatola will be firing shots at the Parramatta star.
Along with South Sydney forward Bayley Sironen, the three Holy Cross College Ryde graduates played schoolboys rugby league together as teenagers.
Tatola and Sironen are a couple of years younger than Moses, but were talented enough in year 10 to be tasked with protecting the skipper in schoolboys comps.
Even then everyone knew Moses was destined for NRL stardom.
But Tatola? He just needed a chance to prove he had what it takes.
“We were playing Arrive Alive Schoolboys Cup when he was in year 10 or year 9, playing in the front row and back row for us,” Moses said of his former Rhinos teammate.
“He was my bodyguard actually one game.
“He’s a great kid and he comes from a great family.
“All of his brothers are great blokes and I grew up with his whole family.
“I could see it from a young age that he was going to be good.
“He just needed that chance and Souths have given him that chance and you can see the footy he’s playing at the moment.”
As teens the trio were all picked up by the Wests Tigers, but history would have them go their separate ways – with Tatola and Sironen landing at Souths by chance.
But it is by sheer force of will they meet in a sudden-death semi-final at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday night.
Tatola was brought to South Sydney by former coach Anthony Seibold and made his debut in 2018 – rarely missing a game since.
Under Wayne Bennett his game has gone to a new level, scoring a double against Newcastle in Sunday’s 46-20 elimination-final win.
When Souths’ unheralded pack was widely criticised at the start of the season after losing Sam Burgess, John Sutton and George Burgess, Tatola took it personally.
Bennett stoked that competitiveness and helped the youngster build confidence to lead the pack after losing so much experience from the side.
The 23-year-old is now averaging 125 metres a game – the most in his three seasons of NRL.
“He’s always told me to run hard and compete, and those are the main two things I go into the game with,” Tatola said.
“It’s been massive for me because I know when I start thinking out there I start to do some poor things.
“When I clear my mind and do simple things like run hard and compete it makes a lot of difference.”