Young Tonumaipea, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly referred to as the Mormon Church), is a star player for the Melbourne Storm rugby league team based in Melbourne, Victoria, in Australia. Inspired by his close friend and former Storm forward, Lagi Setu, Tonumaipea left the Storm a little over two months ago to embark on his two-year mission for the Church. Setu had blazed the trail for the likes of Will Hopate when he left his team, the Broncos, to answer his call to serve.
Tonumaipea left for the Missionary Training Center (MTC) before being able to find out the result of the National Rugby League (NRL) grand final between the Storm and the Roosters. He had to rely on the tidbits that he received in the weekly emails from his Melbourne-based parents, Fati and Irene, to find out if his old Storm teammates become the first side to win back-to-back titles in 25 years.
His parents told Fairfax Media, “We have been updating him on [the] Storm’s results, though at the same time we also have been encouraging him to focus on his mission.” Speaking further about their 26-year-old son, they said:
As parents, we believe his decision [to undertake the mission] was in fact the hardest decision he’s ever had to make in his life, especially since he’s worked so hard to get where he is as a professional athlete. There were many times when Young contemplated whether he was making the right decision to leave the club, with many viewing Young to be crazy to just throw away his career. To play side by side with stars like Billy Slater and Cameron Smith only made every moment for him feel more and more surreal.
Tonumaipea revealed one of the hardest things he’s had to do in his life was to tell coach Craig Bellamy he wanted to leave the club mid-season. His parents added that ultimately it was their son’s faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that gave him the confirmation that he was making the right choice. As his parents, they are happy with his decision.
In a video produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before his departure, Tonumaipea said:
There was something in Lagi I felt I didn’t have and that was pure happiness. I just remembered seeing how happy he was, and I knew it was because of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ. How close he was to our Heavenly Father – and I envied that. Even though I had all these things in the world, there is nothing compared [to] the loving feeling of our Savior. I’m so grateful for the example of Lagi.
Before leaving on his mission, Tonumaipea played seven NRL games for the Storm this season, including filling in at fullback. He had largely filled the role as a utility back in 43 top-grade games since 2014 and was considered one of the club’s most popular players given he was just the second Victorian-raised player to reach the NRL with the Storm. The Storm has extended him an invitation to return to the fold once he has completed his mission in Germany.