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An NRL debut as a starting forward in the Raiders’ biggest game of the season could have been all too much for Hohepa Puru, if not for his coach and teammates ensuring he felt he already belonged in the arena.  

Having turned 21 less than two months ago, Puru, or ‘Pep’ as he’s known at the Raiders, was thrust into the lock position to face Cameron McInnes and co for the Round 27 clash with the Sharks.

Any potential self-doubt was squashed after learning it was his teammates who pushed for him to be the man to replace the suspended Corey Horsburgh, for a game which was going to decide who earned home ground advantage for Finals Week One.

“I sort of expected it because throughout the year Sticky [coach Ricky Stuart] has assured me that he has belief in me, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when he came up to me telling me I’d be playing,” Puru told

“But he told me the boys told him they wanted me in the team.

That’s the best feeling. For teammates to want you there is a big honour in itself, coming from people like Joseph Tapine, Jarrod Croker and Josh Papali’i.

Hohepa Puru

“The boys reassured me throughout the week that I have earned my spot in that team, I just had to wait for the opportunity.

“I can feel the love they give me at training and to know I have earned my spot is crazy really.”

Puru arrived in the nation’s capital this year after coming through at the Panthers and captaining their title-winning Jersey Flegg side in 2022 and being named player of the match in the grand final. 

Hohepa Puru after winning the 2022 Jersey Flegg grand final. ©NRL Photos
Hohepa Puru after winning the 2022 Jersey Flegg grand final. ©NRL Photos

He expected to again spend the season in Jersey Flegg, but in a pre-season chat with Stuart was told he was too good to be playing that grade and would instead be left to prove himself in the NSW state competition.

Puru spent this year adjusting to the physicality of playing against men – no small task given he stands at only 177cm tall and weighs around 92kgs – and excelled as a middle forward who played the full 80 minutes in 12 of his 22 games.

“Sticky told me I’d play NRL this year. I didn’t really believe him at the time, but he’s given me every chance to do it and I’ve taken it and made it real,” Puru said.

“At the start of the year he said ‘mate, you are better than [Flegg]. I want you to go out there and show me that you are confident in NSW Cup, then I can let you play NRL.’

“I had every reason to play Flegg with my size and age, but Ricky has put his trust in me.”

Puru has been named to start at lock again for the elimination final clash with the in-form Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium and is certain he will be better for the experience of last week.

Road to Glory: Raiders

In his debut he managed 38 minutes, carrying the ball for 103 metres and making 25 tackles.  

“I am excited to see what I can bring this week with a better mental game. I don’t think I’ll be as anxious and mentally I will know what to expect on the field,” Puru said.

“The boys told me Cronulla was the biggest pack we would come up against in terms of size, so if I can handle that being thrown at me in my first NRL game then I think I am in good stead for facing other teams.

“I know the Saifiti brothers are huge and will cause havoc in the middle, but I am definitely ready for what is coming.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.