Isi Fitikefu is now a standout in the welterweight category for the MMA promotion ONE Championship but he was once a promising rugby league prospect eager to make a name for himself.

Scouted by the Cronulla Sharks at a young age, Fitikefu has opened up on the reality of not reaching his NRL dream and now working alongside Cameron Ciraldo with the Bulldogs.

Born in New Zealand, Fitikefu's father Jimmy Veikoso played a handful of games with the Canberra Raiders and notched up two appearances for Tonga in 1992 and 1995.

Although he wasn't acquainted with his father until his teenage years it marks the beginning of his once NRL career as he moved from Victoria to Cronulla to live with him.

 "I used to play rugby league back in New Zealand, and then I moved to Australia (to live with) my dad," Fitikefu said to Channel 7.

"He was a former NRL player himself. I've always wanted to be (a rugby league player) like every Polynesian kid who wanted to play rugby league for the first-grade team," he continued.

"At that time, I was living in Australia, so I moved out to Cronulla, and then I got picked up by the Cronulla Sharks team."

"I played for them for a bit, then I got cut. I was trying to get to the third-cup team."

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Although he didn't make it into the NRL as a player it has altered his entire career to date which includes competing in the MMA promotion ONE Championship.

While one dream came crashing down, another dream had opened its door for Fitikefu.

"I was pretty shattered (when he was cut by Cronulla). I didn't know where to go from there, I just dreamt of just one thing. It was playing in the NRL. Sometimes things don't go as planned," he said.

"But luckily enough, during my rugby league career, I met my head coach (Alex Prates) that coaches me now. I met him when I was 16.

"He came to do a rugby league grappling clinic at our school. I met him there, and that's how I got into MMA. He's just showed a couple of simple (things for rugby league) that involved grappling, and it changed my world."

After a successful MMA career in which he still competes regularly, Fitikefu returned to the NRL in 2021 but in a different role entirely.

He helped teach adapted MMA skills to the Penrith Panthers, where small things can make a major difference and change the outcome of the game.

"It's not so much MMA grappling skills. It's more wrestling. You can't overcomplicate it with all these rugby league players because their job is to run hard and tackle hard. So, we just make it simple for them," he added.

"It's just a couple of things – good posture, finish heavy on top, good control. That's it. We worked with the Panthers."

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The MMA fighter also opened up on his relationship with former Panthers assistant and now Bulldogs head coach Cameron Ciraldo.

While the Bulldogs made multiple marquee signings this off-season that includes Viliame Kikau and Reed Mahoney, the signing of Fitikefu and his team went unnoticed.

Fitikefu and his team which includes the likes of Alex Prates, and UFC Middleweight World Champion Robert Whittaker have played a large role in the Dogs success adding new grappling skills to their arsenal.

"Cameron Ciraldo was the assistant coach at the Penrith Panthers. He got the full-time coaching role at the Bulldogs. We got a good relationship with him. So, when he went to the Bulldogs, we went with him," Fitikefu said.

"It's only new so far (for the Bulldogs) because we've been with the Panthers for two years. Because we don't know, from last year, I think there's been a good improvement since the last few seasons. I reckon there is a big improvement.

"All those players have got a lot of potential. Penrith, the Bulldogs, they're just super freak athletes - explosive, powerful guys.

"But any one of them could be (a fighter). If they wanted to step in the cage, I reckon any one of them could do that."