Willie's fight on and off the oval

YOU could not miss him, his hair was that big.

Willie Aisi – dominating the under-18 grand final for Manunda Hawks to claim best on ground – sporting an afro Sideshow Bob would be proud of.

He backed up that weekend and booted three goals for the senior side, as they too won the flag.

It was 2007 and Aisi, a supremely-gifted footballer from Port Moresby, was a young man living the dream.

"That was a brilliant year, we still bring up that week a lot and the memories of those premierships are good," he said.

He won another flag last year, as the Hawks upset Cairns Saints, but says if they were somehow able to defend the title this year, it would be the most special.

But it is not because the 23-year-old wants to go "back-to-back", as many of his teammates would no doubt be dreaming of.

Aisi has different motivations – two very little ones, to be precise.

Twins Emmanuel and Tuene-Rae were born premature at 27 weeks on January 3 this year.

Emmanuel weighed just 639g.

Only recently has Emmanuel been able to return to Cairns from hospital in Brisbane, with Aisi and his wife Helen splitting their time between the two cities hoping their little man would pull through.

He is still on oxygen and by no means out of the woods, but the young couple know they have a little soldier on their hands.

"He’s a fighter," Aisi said.

While admitting it had been a tough year, the Manunda backman said it was worth every bit of angst.

"It’s been pretty hard, constantly worrying like we have," he said.

"But a family is a special gift and you need to cherish it once you are lucky enough to have one."

While his football has taken a back seat, Hawks coach Clint Gribble said Aisi was still one of his most valuable men.

"It’s a big call, but I’ve played a lot of football at the level below AFL in Western Australia and Willie could easily play at that level," he said.

"He has the talent to play AFL, easily. For him to be playing this well despite everything else that’s going on is a credit to him."

And Manunda club president Richard Martin said the man, who had arrived from Papua New Guinea as a raw 18-year-old, was now one of the most respected members of the club.

"He’s just the nicest bloke. He’s a bit shy, but he’s a terrific club man," Martin said.

Aisi will line up against North Cairns at Cazalys tomorrow in an AFL Cairns preliminary final, confident the Hawks can progress to another decider.

"In finals, who knows what can happen, but I know I’m keen to play," he said.

"I know Norths will bounce back from that loss to Saints last weekend – it’s going to be a good game."


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