One of the heroes of the Newtown Jets dual success in 2019, Siosifa Talakai is set to make his first grade Sharks debut in the clash with the Cowboys tomorrow night.
Playing his first NRL game as a teenager, the now 23-year-old Talakai bounced from the Rabbitohs to the Panthers before enjoying an outstanding season at the Newtown Jets in 2019, with the powerfully built back rower set to become the 535th Sharks NRL player when he runs out for his first game in Cronulla colours in Townsville this weekend.
Touted as a potential representative player when coming through the ranks, Sharks coach John Morris is hoping Talakai’s career resurgence continues when his team faces the Cowboys.
“It’s been a journey for him but he’s happy to be back there,” Morris said. “Sifa has really earned his spot in the team through the trials and a strong pre-season.
“He’ll bring aggression and intensity, he’s physical in the way he plays and he’s a skilful backrower who can play in the middle or on an edge.”
A former Junior Kiwi, hailing from the Mascot Jets club in the heart of Rabbitohs territory, Talakai first played in the NRL back in 2016 before a knee injury restricted him to just eight matches during the 2017 season
He departed Souths mid-2018 to sign a contract with the Panthers, where Talakai was unable to break into the NRL team, spending the remainder of the year playing for Penrith's Intrust Super Premiership side.
From there he found a happy home at the Jets in 2019, his strong ball running and bruising defence helping the Jets claim dual titles while catching the eye of Sharks coaches and officials in earning a train and trial opportunity at the Club.
An impressive pre-season followed, with Talakai elevated into the full-time NRL group earlier this year ahead of his first top grade appearance tomorrow night.
Quietly spoken and one preferring to let his actions speak for themselves, it’s been a long road back to the top level for Talakai who expressed his excitement about getting his chance in what is a crucial game for the Sharks in Townsville.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards since pre-season so I’m going to take my opportunity, make the most of it and do a job for the boys and for the club,” he said. “The boys we’ve got here kept me motivated and I found my love for the game again.”
Named in jersey 16, Talakai is capable of playing a variety of roles in the forward pack as explained by Morris, while he has also spent some time in the backline when and where necessary.
As for a plan and exactly what the coach expects from him in Saturday’s game, Talakai intends to keep it simple.
“The plan will be just for me to run hard and tackle hard,” he said.
With the Sharks 19-man squad to be announced later today, Talakai is certain to take up one of the bench spots, with coach Morris also revealing local junior Connor Tracey will assume the utility interchange role and act as a backline, halves and hooker back up if required.
The Sharks take on the Cowboys at Queensland Country Bank Stadium tomorrow night, with the game scheduled for a 7.35pm kick off.