Sharks star Siosifa Talakai has opened up on his return to the NRL, admitting he thought his rugby league career was over years ago.
The 24-year-old made his first grade debut in 2016 for the Rabbitohs, but had his contract torn up by the South Sydney board and then coach Michael Maguire.
After spending the remainder of the season in Penrith’s reserve grade side after linking up with former Panthers general manager Phil Gould, Talakai had no contract offers and thought his time was up as a professional athlete.
“I thought my career was over back in 2018, I think I was a bit immature when I was at the Rabbitohs,” Talakai said to Fox League’s Jake Duke.
“I thought I was at the top of the club, I thought I was bigger than the club and just bigger than the whole NRL… and being a professional.
“(I was) young, but young and dumb, just silly mistakes, breaching contracts and an attitude thing.
“Had Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess, Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker, had all these big stars in my team and I thought I was one of them, but I was mud.”
Talakai revealed his sacking was “heartbreaking” after seeing the toll it took on his family, with a portion of his contract money going back to support his brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents.
“At the time, my dad was the main source of income and he was supporting six kids, my mum and my grandparents lived with us as well,” Talakai explained.
“He was the main income in a four-bedroom house, just seeing that (it was) very heartbreaking, the pressure that my dad had to go through week in week out making sure there was a roof over the top of our heads… it was heartbreaking just seeing that I wasn’t able to help my dad.”
But instead of holding it against the Rabbitohs, Talakai believes his sacking was exactly what he needed to learn his lesson, otherwise he probably “would have ended up in prison”.
To make ends meet and contribute for his family, the barnstorming backrower took up a job as a garbo, running the streets of Leichhardt and Balmain at 4am.
“It just grounded me,” Talakai said.
But his passion for rugby league never faded and the gun edge forward worked his way up the ranks in the Sharks feeder club, Newtown Jets, before his NRL return and securing a spot in Craig Fitzgibbon’s high-flying Sharks side.