Wests Tigers centre Michael Chee-Kam benefits from Tim Simona’s deregistration
Adam Pengilly - SMH
If Tim Simona has been a sinner, Michael Chee-Kam has been a saint.
While the former’s career was spiralling out of control with a flurry of bets that led to his deregistration from the NRL, the man who is now filling the position vacated by Simona was finding his faith.
And after three seasons where he had managed just 10 NRL appearances, Chee-Kam thinks it is no coincidence that opportunity now knocks.
The 25-year-old Aucklander is not the only Tiger who is deeply immersed in his religion. Chee-Kam and teammate Josh Aloiai, who has spoken of his desire to become a pastor once his playing days are over, regularly conduct Bible studies together.
“We all share that same belief in Jesus Christ,” Chee-Kam said. "When we train at Campbelltown I will go to Josh’s house and we have Bible studies, which is pretty good.
"It’s really helped me. Before it was just about footy, footy, footy, and I put all my focus into it, but now I have this end goal I guess.
“I believe He has put me in this place for a reason and I just had to put Him first. I had a couple of missteps back at Manly, but me putting Him first has really elevated my career to the next level to be honest.”
So much so that Chee-Kam is keeping Jamal Idris on the Tigers bench for the clash against the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday afternoon.
Having sat on the pine several times for the Tigers last year, Chee-Kam could have been out of the top squad altogether if Simona had not been caught betting on himself and opposition players to score tries as well as against the Tigers.
But now he’s hoping the rolling one-year deals that come with being an NRL journeyman might be a thing of the past.
“I wanted to play with the likes of [James] Tedesco, Mitch Moses, Luke Brooks and Aaron Woods,” Chee-Kam said. "That’s what help bring me here.
"They’re exciting players and hard to stop on their day, very dangerous. There’s a lot of potential here. They’re not really young any more – most of them have played over 50 games – and they’re really starting to grow into leaders.
“I remember when I was on the fringes in [under] 20s and seeing a couple of boys come off I would get a little opportunity and you have to make the most of it. I’m trying to feed off that. This is a small opportunity to hold this position and I need to make the most of it.”
It might be a small opportunity, but challenges don’t come much harder than confronting Raiders centre Joey Leilua who tormented the Tigers in a final-round drubbing at Leichhardt Oval last year when the joint venture had everything to play for.
“He’s a beast,” Chee-Kam said. "You want to play against the top players in your position and see how you against them. I’m pretty excited to go up against him this week.
“I haven’t played against him before, but he’s a dangerous player. If I stick to my principles – all the coaches have been working on our defensive [techniques] – I think we will be alright.”