Isaiya Katoa was one of two young Dolphins blooded by Wayne Bennett to help launch the club’s inaugural season and he received a rugby league education in his winning NRL debut.
As well as being crunched in a tackle by Roosters superstar Joseph Suaali’i where he struggled to get back to his feet and making a critical error which directly led to a try after he tried to trap a kick-off with his foot instead of catching the ball on the full; Katoa bounced back each time and played a key hand in the victory, setting up points with his passing and his running game.
“It was incredible, what an amazing atmosphere it was,” Katoa said of his debut to assembled media in the sheds following the match.
“Full credit to the boys who turned up today, we were confident that we could come in here and do a job and we’re very fortunate to come away with that.
“(The Suaali’i hit) made me realise, that’s the first grade physicality, that kind of epitomises what you have to do.
“You have get back up after those and keep going, but, that hurt man! But it was still good to get up there and stay on the field after that shot.”
Describing himself as an instinctive player, who likes to “play eyes up footy, react on the go”, Katoa said he had the confidence to do just that on the field thanks not only to his halves partner Sean O’Sullivan being the more “dominant player” in their duo, but also due to the work he has been doing in the pre-season on his mental preparations, including with performance psychologist Dr Phil Jauncey.
“I’ve done a lot of work on the mental side (of my game), when I’m trying to move on after I’ve made an error or a mistake and Wayne and Woolfy [assistant coach Kristian Woolf], they’ve been massive on helping me focus on my next job,” Katoa said.
“Even after the mistake, it’s not about the mistake that counts, it’s about my response after the mistake. That’s something that I’m still learning and that’s part of the journey.
“(Phil’s) been massive, he’s another one that who has helped me with the mental side of footy, understanding myself and understanding how I deal with my footy.
“Phil’s helping me out, especially with the things like mistakes and how to move on, how to get back to our Plan As is what Phil calls it.
“He’s had so much experience, he’s awesome. When he’s speaking in our in our meetings and everyone’s listening and he’s saying a lot of a lot of very, very true points.”
Since his signing in February last year from the Panthers – where he also bypassed the development contract stage and was fast-tracked into the club’s top 30, despite barely turning 18 – Katoa has attracted headlines, with calls for him to make his debut growing louder following his Rugby League World Cup performance with Tonga.
After being named in the Dolphins side last week, alongside fellow debutant Kurt Donoghue, Katoa is set to keep his five-eighth jersey for the long term, with the more experienced Anthony Milford continuing to work hard to address some areas of him game that need improvement.
“I can’t wait to get to next week, (I am) just feeding off that energy from that game,” Katoa said when asked if he was keen to play more NRL.
“Hopefully we’re in good stead going into next week.
“I think the boys will enjoy tonight and then go back to the drawing board and we’ve got another job next week.”
The Dolphins will head back to Kayo Stadium on Saturday to host the Canberra Raiders in Round 2.