Asu Kepaoa received a number of gifts on his 21st birthday on Monday – from brand new shoes to designer clothes and even a dessert box, but there was one surprise that meant more than any of that.
What he thought was going to be a low-key birthday turned into a day to remember as his dad made a surprise visit to his home – completely unexpected.
Kepaoa was just hanging out with his girlfriend when he received a knock on the door, seeing his dad for the first time in 18 months.
“I asked my girlfriend if we were going to go out and doing something and she said she couldn’t be bothered, which made me cranky, but turns out she was in on the surprise,” he laughed.
“We were just sitting around playing cards and then she said ‘who’s that?’ and there was my dad was standing at the door.”
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Kepaoa admits it’s been tough being away from his family, but seeing his father on his birthday was special.
“It meant everything to me,” he said.
“Most of my family missed my debut and that was pretty big. I hadn’t seen them for a year and a half.
“It really got me by surprise. I really love him being here.
“It’s given me a little bit more motivation to succeed this year and do well for my family back at home because family means everything to me – they’re the reason I’m here today and who I am today.”
The winger said he was in complete shock all evening.
“At first, my dad didn’t say anything to me because he was just in tears. We were both speechless and really happy to be back together,” Kepaoa said.
“Being in the bubble last year was pretty difficult. I hadn’t been able to see my family at all so this was nice.”
Earlier in the day, coach Michael Maguire presented “AJ” with a cake at training and all the players sung ‘Happy Birthday’.
“It was just a perfect day,” he said.
“Everyone looked after me – from the boys getting around me at training to my dad arriving to see me.”