Storm utility Young Tonumaipea has quit rugby league to follow his faith and take up a two-year Mormon mission in Berlin.
The 25-year old, who is a devout Christian, informed coach Craig Bellamy on Monday of his decision to pursue the full-time mission, abandoning the final year and a half of his contract.
Tonumaipea will reportedly help Melbourne through the State of Origin period, before heading to Germany in July to embark on his journey, which will include unpaid community work.
"It's something that has been on my mind since last year, it has been one of the biggest decisions of my life," Tonumaipea told the Storm website.
"As I have matured I've come to learn that football is not everything in my life.
"I'm a devout Christian, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I'm passionate my full time mission over the next two years can make a difference in other people's lives as well as mine.
"Since high school I've been in the Storm system, I'm forever grateful and thankful for Melbourne Storm and the values I've learnt here.
"I'm especially grateful for Frank and Craig for giving me the opportunity to play football – and to Dave and the Club for being so supportive."
The Victorian has played 40 games for Melbourne since debuting in 2014, winning a premiership in 2017. He has also represented Samoa at an international level five times.
Storm boss Dave Donaghy said the club was disappointed to lose such a good young talent, but supported his decision.
“There was a lot of listening from our end as opposed to a discussion about it,” Donaghy told reporters on Wednesday.
“Young came to see us the other day and let us know he was going to embark on a mission for two years. From our point of view he goes with our blessing. I take my hat off to him.
“I said this to him that he might not see but it is a courageous decision given how hard he has worked to forge a career in rugby league, particularly as a Victorian kid.
“When you’re in a team environment, I couldn’t imagine how difficult internally it would’ve been for Young knowing how selfless he is. As Young told me it’s the right decision for him. We are very proud of him that he has had the strength to make the decision.”
Donaghy said Tonumaipea would be welcomed back to the club if he decided so.
“He is only 25,” Donaghy said.
“He said he doesn’t want to let himself go when he is overseas. He has devoted himself to his footy over the last seven years since he has been in our system and forged a career. I have total respect for him for making the decision that’s very important to him.
“If he wants to come back I’m sure he will keep himself in good nick and he has plenty of footy left in him when his two years is completed.”