Mum still says ‘get a real job!â€™
I grew up in Tasmania and have lived and played rugby in Canberra, Sydney, Perth and now Melbourne, where Iâ€™m playing for the Melbourne Rebels.
I was speaking to my mum Jennifer recently about how much of a journey my rugby career has been. I moved out of home when I was 18 to play in the Brumbies academy. I went to Canberra not knowing anyone, and worked unpacking trucks at Toll IPEC, then at Bidvest, all while I was in the academy.
Then I made the move to Sydney, working from 3:30 in the morning to 12 midday, stacking pallets at Costco and going to training after that. It was definitely a struggle but itâ€™s something Iâ€™d never change because I think itâ€™s made me the player I am today.
The sacrifices Iâ€™ve made to make my mumâ€™s life better are also something I take pride in.Â Mum gets so much joy from watching me play. Sheâ€™s not a quiet person, my Mum, and when she flies down for a game, the happiness that I see in her is something Iâ€™m very proud of.
She still tells me to get a real job! But sheâ€™s very proud and very loud at games, and for me to be able to share that with her is pretty cool.
I see myself as an Australian, but I am very proud of my Tongan heritage, which is also a big part of who I am. Iâ€™m half Tongan and I love spending time with my Tongan family. I try to get there at least once a year.
Time is not an issue in Tonga. Itâ€™s so relaxing whether youâ€™re sitting on a beach, or cooking a pig on a spit, or travelling around to little islands. Itâ€™s nice not to have a rugby timetable where you have to be somewhere from 8:30am all the way to 5:30pm every day.
When my old man passed away when I was 12, my aunty really made sure that I was in touch with my Tongan side and thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s very special to me. I think the main reason I play rugby is that my old man played for Tonga.
Hearing about his legacy and the legacy of my cousin who also played for Tonga, made a rugby career something that I wanted to achieve. Thatâ€™s really what I want to leave behind â€“ that my family is proud of me as a person, and of what Iâ€™ve been able to achieve in my career.
THE WESSELS EFFECT
I came to Melbourne after four years with the Western Force, and Iâ€™m really enjoying it.
Iâ€™m living in Hawthorn, which is a nice area. Glenferrie Road is treating me very well. The cafes, the restaurants, the culture and the people here in Melbourne are great. Iâ€™m still yet to see it all but Iâ€™m getting there, and my partner Tonia and I are really enjoying our time here.
I think theyâ€™re right when they say Melbourne is the Australian sporting capital. There are so many events and other teams within the city. But it means itâ€™s definitely tough competing with all the other sports here.
I was a little shocked when we scored 45 points in our victory over the Queensland Reds this year â€“ which was the most points the Rebels had ever scored â€“ and the match report was 15 pages back in the paper behind reports of AFL teams in pre-season training.
But Iâ€™ve been living in Perth, so Iâ€™m used to that. And itâ€™s kind of to our advantage, to be honest. It means I can stay focused and stay on track towards what we want to achieve this year.
I think the main reason I play rugby is that my old man played for Tonga
It was nice that a few more people showed up to the Brumbies game last weekend, which was our third straight win to start the year. I donâ€™t want to get ahead of ourselves, but the team is gelling well, and I really think itâ€™s due to the amount of genuinely good people that we have at the club, both players and staff.
Everyoneâ€™s there for a reason, and everyone enjoys the competitive nature of everyone else. The amount of work that has been done by individuals is amazing, and the progress guys have made in a short amount of time gelling two teams together is fantastic.
Itâ€™s been a hard task with so many players coming across from the Force, and I think our coach Dave Wessels has done a tremendous job with that. I came in late into the piece. Basically, the team had already gelled and there was not much work to be done. I felt like I was playing catch-up a little bit to be honest.
Dave is a very intelligent guy. Thereâ€™s nothing that comes out of his mouth thatâ€™s not thought-out. If he says something, thereâ€™s a reason for him to say it. He thinks about things more than a lot of people.
Of course, he also blows up sometimes. Which coach doesnâ€™t blow up? Daveâ€™s definitely had a few stern words to the boys, but a lot of his blow-ups are justified. They are there for a reason, not just out of thin air, and the boys have always responded to it. I think thatâ€™s a credit to Dave.
One of the boys was actually mentioning the other day the amount of respect that we all have for Dave. A lot of people have had coaches in the past that were almost talking down to them. The unique thing about Dave is heâ€™ll listen to player input. He treats them like adults and speaks to them with respect.
REBELS WITH A CAUSE
Iâ€™ve said all along as the captain that Iâ€™m not going to change the way I play or the way I act. I think my competitive nature is one of my biggest assets and, if I went away from that, I wouldnâ€™t be true to myself.
I didnâ€™t play last weekend due to sternum soreness, but I should be right to play this weekend against the Waratahs in Sydney. The last time I played the Waratahs was with the Force last year. We got a scrum penalty at the end of the game to send Matt Hodgson off. Hodgo lined up for a penalty goal and slotted it, which is a really cool memory, and was a great way to end his career at his last home game for the Force.Â I think the score blew out at the end. Iâ€™m sure this week will be much tighter.
From our perspective, itâ€™s obviously been a good start to the season. But we definitely recognise that we have so much progress to make as a team. Weâ€™ll stick to our processes and let the outcome take care of itself.
Personally, being selected for the Wallabies again is definitely a goal of mine for 2018. Weâ€™ve got three Tests against Ireland in June, and Ireland have just won the Six Nations championship. So for us to really perform well on home soil against a team thatâ€™s so well-organised is one of my big goals.
But the main priority right now is performing well for the Melbourne Rebels.
Weâ€™ve all made a lot of sacrifices to come down here to Melbourne, and to really do that justice, and to do the fans justice, we want to excel in the Melbourne Rebelsâ€™ jersey.
Bring on the Waratahs.