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South Sydney Rabbitohs Centre Siosifa Talakai Shunned Athletics Career To Pursue NRL Dream
This article first appeared on smh.com.au.
To put it bluntly, Siosifa Talakai is built like a brick outhouse. And when he says he has an athletics background, you think hammer throw, discus, shot putt, javelin … whatever he could possibly get his hands on to hurl as far as possible.
“[But] I was actually quite good at walking and came second in the 1500-metre event at state,” the Rabbitohs centre laughs of the sport usually reserved for those of skin and bone, not 100-kilogram wrecking balls who now carry a football menacingly in one hand.
“It was the least intense [athletics discipline]. I did it for a laugh, but never took it seriously. One of my mates and I decided to do it for fun. He was always better than me and I tried to stay as close to him as I could.”
He did a pretty good job of it. But why walk alone when you can run with all your older brothers and cousins? And wonder one day if you can don the blue and white like Willie and Sonny Bill and all those other famous Dogs of War?
“Back in 2004 was the first time I really followed rugby league and I used to go for the Bulldogs,” Talakai said. “I used to love watching them then and it was obvious they were pretty tight and had a strong brotherhood.
“Playing against the Dogs was pretty good [last week]. I had never really thought about it. It’s funny, I used to follow a team with those colours and coming against them on the big stage I was just ready to rip in. Enemies can be your closest friends.”
Banned from playing rugby league at one stage by his mother Suliana, it would only be a matter of time before Talakai heeded the lessons of the backyard scraps and made good on a promise to try his hand at the 13-man game.
The youngest brother in a family of six siblings – cousin Sam was also a regular childhood protagonist before carving out his own career with Super Rugby’s Queensland Reds – Talakai has now become a shining light in Michael Maguire’s Rabbitohs after debuting in the NRL mid-way through last year.
His family and extended relatives never strayed far from Mascot, where faith was first and foremost the priority over football.
“I’m used to getting picked on quite a bit,” he said. “It was pretty tough [growing up]. We used to go to the park and do a bit of training and I used to struggle a lot.
“It used to be funny because I tried to trick my older brothers and be a bit rough, but I always came off second best.
“I look at rugby league as a blessing. I try to do the best I can with the talent I’ve been blessed with. I’m just trying to fulfil the will of God and play to my best and use the opportunity as best as I can.”
Which the 20-year-old is certainly doing at the moment, nailing down a regular spot in a backline missing injured skipper Greg Inglis.
It’s only recently that Talakai has been taught invaluable off-field lessons by Inglis, Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Maguire to help mend the bumps and bruises to his hulking frame.
And it’s why he now can’t see himself anywhere else – even if he did crave the blue and white as a kid.
“I’ve never wanted to move to any other club,” Talakai said. “I think I was 13 when I put the first red and green jersey on in a development squad. I’ve never looked back and have never wanted to go to another team.”