If young sportspeople need an example of resilience and positivity amid adversity to draw upon, they need look no further than Fa’amanu Brown.

The tenacious Christchurch-born utility’s rugby league journey has taken him from Hornby Panthers’ juniors, to an NRL debut at Cronulla as a teenager, through multiple career-threatening injury setbacks, personal trials, a spell in the second-tier English competition, back to the NRL and a part in a historic World Cup campaign, and now to his second stint with Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

After reviving his career at Wests Tigers in 2022 and featuring for Samoa at the World Cup, Brown was snapped up by the Bulldogs – where he last played in 2019 – and played the first four games of the 2023 season in first grade. A dislocated elbow suffered against the Warriors in Auckland interrupted his campaign, but the 28-year-old has been a standout at hooker and lock for the club’s high-flying NSW Cup outfit.

“I’m definitely happy with how I’m going,” Brown says.

“The goal is to play NRL, but at the same time – and what I’ve learnt along my journey – is that I can only control what I do.

“I feel like I’ve been doing really well in (NSW) Cup and it shows with where we are on the table. All I can control is my performance and let the coaching staff pick the team.

“Now being older and an experienced player, I’m trying to help the younger guys coming through the grades and nurture them, then hopefully get to see them make their NRL debut someday.”

Brown left Christchurch more than a decade ago, moving to Sydney as a 16-year-old and graduating from Endeavour Sports High School, as well as progressing through the Sharks’ SG Ball and NYC ranks.

But it’s clear he still harbours strong ties to where he first pulled on a pair of football boots, coming through the grades at Hornby Panthers with the likes of Tevin Arona, Tyrone Arona and Dene Grace.

“I still follow the (Panthers) prems now, keep up to date with how they’re going each week. My best friends from back at school still play for Hornby now,” Brown enthuses.

“To see them in club footy and enjoying other’s company after working five days a week, being with your mates on the weekend, it’s refreshing for me to see.

“Once I retire from (professional) rugby league I’ll probably try and come home and get a game – it’s always been something I’ve wanted to.

“One thing I remember coming from Hornby, it’s a small community but big at heart and they love their footy.

“They were obviously unlucky last year in the (grand) final. But they’re my best friends, my best man at my wedding next year – Tevin Arona – he’s come back from playing in the World Cup (for Cook Islands) last year and is enjoying his time back home.

“And my old coach, Corey Lawrie, he’s still banging hard – I don’t know how he does it. We’ll probably play Presidents together!”

Brown made his NRL debut for the Sharks as a 19-year-old five-eighth during the club’s strife-torn 2014 campaign, effectively replacing the sacked Todd Carney. But after 11 eye-catching rookie-season appearances – and call-ups to both the New Zealand and Samoa Four Nations train-on squads – he suffered a season-ending knee injury at the following year’s Auckland Nines.

Returning to the field in 2016, the tyro was restricted to NSW Cup duty with feeder club Newtown Jets, starring as a halfback, while Cronulla surged to NRL premiership glory. Brown played in the Sharks’ World Club Challenge clash with Wigan in early-2017 and made nine top-grade appearances for the defending champs to pique the interest of Canterbury-Bankstown.

A regular NRL spot proved elusive – he played 12 games in the top flight for the Bulldogs across 2018-19 – but he won a NSW Cup grand final and State Championship with the club in 2018. Despite being named the Bulldogs’ NSW Cup Player of the Year in 2019, he was released at the end of the season.

Brown’s career hung in the balance after breaking the navicular bone in his foot – a complex injury from which many athletes don’t recover sufficiently to carry on playing at an elite level.

“One thing I go by is adversity builds character,” a circumspect Brown explains.

“Some weeks I believe I should be playing NRL and I don’t get picked, but the injuries that I’ve gone through help me get by any setbacks. I’m mentally strong because of these hurdles and I’m so grateful because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be the man I am today.

“As I’ve got older I’ve realised rugby league isn’t everything, it’s just a part of me. It doesn’t identify who I am as a man. Now I’m trying to pass the torch onto young guys coming through, and guys who go through injuries and rehab now, I try to be there and guide them through and give them advice from my journey.

“Seeing (Hornby product and Brisbane Broncos forward) Jordan Riki come through the grades, I remember coming home and talking to him during a time where he was at a crossroads with injuries – it held him back for a year.

“But look at him now with a bit of perseverance, it shows from a small hometown it is possible. And seeing guys like Jordan and (Dolphins winger) Jamayne (Isaako) succeed is awesome – young guys will think, ‘if they can do it then anyone else can’.”

Brown’s remarkable career renaissance over the past 12 months began via taking an opportunity with Featherstone Rovers, who play in England’s second division, after spending another entire season on the sidelines in 2020.

He was a revelation in the halves for the club, scoring 16 tries in 25 games and helping Rovers to a grand final. More importantly, he was able to stay on the paddock in the wake of his arduous rehab program.

“No one really wanted to sign me because of my history with injuries, which I understood – it’s a business thing.

“But I was lucky enough that I went to the English Championship and played every game, got through injury-free and reignited the fire to crack it (in the NRL).”

Wests Tigers then came calling, offering Brown a train-and-trial deal for 2022 – and when injuries tore through the club’s dummy-half ranks, he was ready to take the mid-season NRL opportunity with both hands.

“Funnily enough (my debut for the Tigers) was against the Bulldogs and I scored two tries coming off the bench, so that’s how it started,” he recalls.

“It all comes from believing in yourself and believing what you’ve done, your preparation, all the hard work you’ve done behind the scenes.”

Brown missed just one top-grade game for the Tigers from that point, making a career-high 13 NRL appearances and scoring six tries in his role as a No.9 or 13.

A Toa Samoa rep in mid-season Tests in 2016-17, as well as the island nation’s disappointing World Cup campaign in the latter year, Brown’s five-year international hiatus ended when he was called up to play against Cook Islands during 2022. His stellar form for the Tigers garnered a spot in Samoa’s World Cup squad.

Again flourishing on the fields of England, Brown scored a try off the bench against Greece and stepped into the hooker hot-seat for the semi-finals after Danny Levi withdrew from the tournament for personal reasons, playing his part in Samoa’s euphoric 27-26 golden point boilover against England at Emirates Stadium in front of more than 40,000 fans.

A head knock ruled Brown out of the final, where a gallant Samoa went down 30-10 to Australia.

“I can’t even put into words that experience – to go through all those injuries and then go to a World Cup,” Brown says.

“When people go to Super League at my age and my history of injuries, they usually don’t enough get a chance to come back to the NRL, let alone go to a World Cup. To play two games in a World Cup, I was just stoked.

“And to be part of that squad for a small country where my parents are from, to represent them and put Samoa on the map, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Brown subsequently returned to Canterbury-Bankstown on a one-year contract and had cemented a spot in new coach Cameron Ciraldo’s 17 before his Mt Smart mishap in Round 4 landed him in hospital.


Although working his way back into first grade has proved difficult, he praised the club’s new direction – even if the NRL side’s results have underwhelmed.

“They say the Bulldogs are the family club and I definitely believe in that now. I think what Cameron Ciraldo has done in bringing his standards through from a back-to-back grand final-winning team (at Penrith) makes this club believe we can be champions again.

“The season’s not going too well at the moment, but the boys are buying in and with a few more players on the roster it will help us in the coming years. Everyone now, we’re just trusting in the process – Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Meanwhile, Brown is personally excited about the recently announced partnership between Canterbury Rugby League and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, which unites his roots with his current home.

“When I heard about it from the recruitment guys at the club I was over the moon, because it gives kids like myself who may not get a look elsewhere an opportunity to learn and be educated by professionals.

“Hopefully we get to see more Hornby players come and make a living not only for themselves, but for their families.

“We went and watched (Northern’s Bronson Reuben and Hornby’s Sosaia Alatini play for the Bulldogs’ Harold Matthews Cup-winning team) and they’re talented footballers – all they need is some people to believe in them. Rugby league can change their life.”


A key element of CRL’s relationship with the Bulldogs is allowing promising young players to remain in their home environment – instead of uprooting to Australia before they otherwise may be ready – while also receiving high-level rugby league training and guidance.

Given his experience of being thrust into the hustle and bustle of Sydney as a 16-year-old, Brown wholeheartedly endorses this approach.

“Rugby league is definitely not just about the physical attributes. The majority of being an NRL player is about the mental side. Having that education while being able to stay back home longer, having that support base, that’s only going to help.

“By the time they get to 18 or 19 and they’re ready to move out, they haven’t missed a beat at all.

“When I moved to Sydney with no family at all, and I’ve got four brother and four sisters, it was hard. You’re still a kid and you question yourself about whether you really want to be there. You don’t have someone in your ear telling you everything’s going to be alright, you don’t know how to pay bills.

“At the age of 16, I had to learn all that. So to be at home and in their comfort zone, but still be educated on how the game works here, it will benefit them in the long run.”

Earlier this year Brown opened up on ABC’s Nesian Footy podcast, bravely detailing the most difficult periods of his life and career.

He spoke about the mental health challenges of leaving home so young and adjusting to Sydney, struggling to manage his contract money and overcoming a problem gambling phase, the myriad injury obstacles, and the transformative experience of returning home to care for his mother, Aitofi Sila Pouvi, before she passed away from lung cancer in 2020, which he described as his greatest achievement.

While continuing to pursue his own NRL ambitions, Brown has found a calling helping clubmates navigate the traps and challenges that have characterised his path in professional sport.

“The journey I’ve been on, it’s given me purpose. There’s a reason I’m here, and even if I’m not excelling as an NRL player as much (as I’d like to) there’s a reason … for these trials.

“If I can save one person from what they’re going through in their life, my heart’s at peace. That’s how I was raised – to give more than receive. With my mum, she gave her whole heart, she gave everything even when she didn’t have a dollar in her pocket.”

Brown is currently unsigned for 2024. But the Samoan boy from Hornby has proven time and again he’s prepared to roll with the punches – with positivity, self-belief and leadership, as much as footy ability, proudly displayed in his shop window.

2023-07-26 06_49_17-Bulldogs Kennel on Twitter_ _Fa'amanu Brown returns for 2023 👊🏼 https___t.co_m
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